Most advice on escaping sand traps assumes nice, fluffy sand. The courses I play feature hard-packed, shallow sand that gives me fits. Suggestions?
Hard sand requires two things: (1) Your wedge cannot have too much bounce, and (2) the clubface must be wide open when it hits the sand (the open face and small bounce should allow it to slide under the ball). When the sand is so shallow even this technique won't work, chip the shot cleanly (ball-first contact). Clean contact requires practice, but it's a good shot to have.
I read an article about looking at the cup while putting. What is your take? Is this just for practice, or is it something I can use all the time?
To pull this off you need a solid and well-grooved stroke that will produce consistently good contact for speed control and also start your putts on-line. The more putts break, the more difficult this becomes (although it's not impossible). I know one PGA Tour pro who won a tournament looking at the hole on every putt. If you're going to use this technique you'll need many hours of practice first.
Research & Data: Wrist Motion Degrades Putting Accuracy
Loose wrists sink...
Well, not much actually. In testing, the Pelz Golf Institute measured a correlation between wrist motion (hinge and rotation) and accuracy in putting.
Our conclusion: The more "wristy" your stroke, the less likely you are to hole putts. Hinging your wrists adds power to your stoke, making distance control difficult to attain. Wrist rotation changes the starting line of your putt from one stroke to the next. Since wrist motion adversely affects distance and direction, why use it in your putting stroke?
Ye olde putting stroke
When you watch old films of Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson, do you know why you see wristy strokes? These golfers putted on greens that would have rolled at speeds of 5 to 7 feet on the Stimpmeter. They needed wrist power to get the ball to the hole. Modern tournament green speeds of 10 to 12 feet require less power and more accurate touch for speed.