Big Play: Furyk’s sand save on the 18th hole at the Tour Championship

October 4, 2010

WHO: Jim Furyk
WHAT: A 57-foot bunker shot to 2’5” for the winning par
WHEN: Final round of the Tour Championship
WHERE: 230-yard par 3 18th hole at East Lake Golf Club

Furyk had frittered away his big lead with bogies at 16 and 17. Under normal circumstances a 20-yard bunker shot is a basic shot for a Tour pro because that is a standard distance that pros practice. But this was anything but a standard sand shot because Furyk not only had the Tour Championship, the FedEx Cup and millions of dollars on the line, he also had a wet lie in the bunker from a day of rain. Add to that the fact that Furyk is a mediocre bunker player who began the week ranked 157th in sand saves, and hitting a skull or leaving it in the bunker wasn’t out of the question.

So I was very impressed with the deft touch Furyk showed. He took a shorter swing than normal, knowing that the ball would jump out of the wet sand, and his swing was very aggressive through the hit to impart as much backspin and control as possible. He also kept the clubface square to minimize the bounce and thus avoid skulling the ball out of the sand.

It’s essential to control the bounce with sand shots, because bounce controls the depth of your divot and the divot depth determines the type of shot you’ll hit. Bounce is the angle between the leading and trailing edges of the flange (the area on the bottom of the clubhead) or sole. Generally, the bigger the bounce (measured in degrees) the shallower the divot will be, while the smaller the bounce the deeper the divot will be. No matter what type of sand wedge you have or what degree of bounce your sand wedge has, you can modify the bounce at address. By opening the clubface, you increase the bounce and that shallows out your divot. A closed clubface will decrease the bounce and produce a deeper divot. Experiment with your sand wedge in a bunker to learn the variety of bounce angles you can produce. On a normal sand shot, you should usually increase the bounce to produce a shallower divot. On a buried lie, you want to close the clubface and have a deep divot to gouge out the ball. The texture of the sand (like the wet sand that Fuyrk faced) also requires adjustment to the bounce to give you the best chance of blasting the ball out of the sand and onto the green.

Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher Keith Lyford is the director of instruction at the Golf Academy at Old Greenwood in Truckee, Calif.