The Big Play: The grip secret for Els' high and soft bunker shots
Who: Ernie Els
What: 36-foot bunker shot to two inches from the hole
Where: 175-yard par-3 15th hole at Doral's Blue Monster, Miami
When: Final round of the CA Championship
Ernie Els could've lost the CA Championship if he hadn't hit a perfect sand shot at 15 on Sunday. Els led playing partner Charl Schwartzel by one stroke, and Schwartzel had just stiffed a shot from the same bunker in which Els' ball was sitting. No surprise, though, that Els stuck it close; he's one of the Tour's best bunker players. This season, Els ranks 11th on Tour in bunker play, getting the sand save 64.52 percent of the time.
Els is so good in the sand because his swing is so smooth. There's no violence in his action, so his sand wedge glides through the sand. Ernie also doesn't shorten his swing in traps. He takes a full swing on short bunker shots, and after opening his clubface he lets the wedge do the work of slipping under the ball and lofting it high and soft.
The Tip: To play short greenside bunker shots, try gripping the club with the thumb of your upper hand pointing directly down the middle of the grip. Be sure your thumb is not angled even a little bit over to one side of the grip. At address, you should look down and see just one knuckle–the forefinger's–on the lead hand. This grip, which I call an "alternate" grip, weakens your normal grip just enough to assure that the clubface will be a bit open at impact. You should take a full swing, and the open clubface will propel the ball so it has a high and soft trajectory.
Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Craig Shankland teaches at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Fla.
(Photo: David Walberg/SI)