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You need to change your thinking. You are not "doomed" because your ball has some sand around it.
You need to change your thinking. You are not "doomed" because your ball has some sand around it. (Courtesy of Bali Hai G.C.)

Getting out of the sand can be a day at the beach with mental imagery, practice and technique

B.J. HathawayBy B.J. Hathaway,

You're lying on the beach gazing at the crystal-clear, aqua-colored water. As the sun warms your face a breeze disturbs the soft, white, silky sand. And as you brush the few tiny grains of from your forehead, it reminds you of that one time in the bunker on 17 ...

Bunkers, sand traps, hazards.

None of these words describe a place you want to find yourself on the golf course. But know that golfing greats like Tiger Woods, Greg Norman, Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan have found similar fates.

The question becomes, "How do you make the great escape?"

First, change your thinking. Sand traps are a part of the golf landscape just like trees, grass, greens and rough. You are not "doomed" because your ball has some sand around it. This is simply a contest between you and the course architect (who has an evil laugh, by the way) and you are going to win.

Second, get the mind involved. Mental imagery, when done correctly, is a powerful tool used by elite athletes in all sports. Why not use one of the most powerful computers ever invented -- your mind. If you don't believe you will get out of the sand then, quite frankly, you won't. Belief comes from past success, which will come from practice and technique.

So how can we best use visual imagery for our great escape? Interestingly, the mind prefers images instead of verbal commands when it comes to golf. But how do we create images? Ask the right questions. "What would a good shot look like here?" Notice how your brain doesn't send a scrolling list of words across your mental movie screen -- you start seeing images.

Let's make it more vivid and have our movie play in slow motion. We see the ball sitting on a blanket of white sand. In the next frame a polished, chrome sand wedge appears, glistening in the bright sunlight. Frame by frame it slowly travels forward until the bottom flange enters the sand. A cascade of bright white sand explodes from behind and under the ball, sending the slow moving ball up into the air. As it travels down onto the green it skips forward, landing three feet short of the hole, applies the brakes and stops dead in its tracks. A six-inch putt remains.

Now we need a little technique adjustment to make sure this slow-motion movie becomes a reality. For the purposes of this article, let's just go with a standard sand shot around the green.

The proper grip

Take your normal golf grip. Instead of opening the club face, which is what most people would suggest, try something radical. Point the club face directly at the target and let the club tilt backward. The leading edge should be off the ground with the grip end of the club pointing behind you. What we are doing here is exposing the bounce without changing the face angle. Now if you are still holding the club, your hands are going to be behind the center of your chest and this won't look right. Keep your hands where they are and swivel your body around, opening your stance line until your hands appear more "normal" and the shaft is vertical to the ground instead of leaning back.

Aim for the sand

Now that we have the right setup, just allow the wrists to set early and take the club up and, in rhythm, move it back down, aiming for a point about two inches behind the ball. Some key points here: Do not stab at the ball or try to rotate the club face over to square the face. Just aim for the sand. Remember, this is the only shot in golf where you don't actually have to hit the ball. Keep the club face looking at the sky as it exits the sand and make a nice high finish.

Can it really be that simple? Yes. With the right mental approach, good technique and a little practice you will not only get the ball out of the sand but start to enjoy it as well.

Over the course of B.J. Hathaway's career, he has established himself as the leading junior golf instructor in the Southeast and one of the leading mental golf coaches in the country. While working at Augusta Golf Instruction, he received the prestigious Master Certified Mind Factor accreditation; the first golf instructor in the U.S. to receive this advanced certification.

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