You're one up in your match on the 18th hole. Your approach shot found a greenside bunker, but your opponent has opened the door by dropping his approach in the water. All you need to do to win your match is to get out of the sand and into the hole in three shots. Your lie in the sand is good, the flag is tightly guarded (the green slopes down to the flag with water four steps behind the hole), and there's plenty of green out to the right. Thirty people including your three best friends are watching the final hole of your championship match. Don't blow it now!
If you saw last month's cover story, you know about having go-to shots when you need them: Shots you can pull off successfully at least 90 percent of the time. Go-to shots aren't the greatest shots you can possibly hit, but the ones just good enough to insure that you win. You need go-to shots all the time in golf, so let's take a look at your options here.
1st Option: Blast at the Pin
Plentiful backspin can be applied from good lies in sand, so you can stop this one quickly. The pros usually blast shots out high and soft, stopping within 10-feet of the hole, even on downslopes. But why go at this pin (with the water lurking in the background), if you don't need to.
2nd Option: The Safe Blast
All amateurs should play this shot out to the right, to the fat part of the green. It's silly to play at this flagstick and risk a penalty.
3rd Option: Chip it Clean
If blasting from sand is a weakness in your game, picking the ball cleanly off the sand with a 7-iron is a good option when the bunker lip is low. There's plenty of room for this shot here.
4th Option: The Putt
The safest escape for many golfers facing a smooth, no-lip exit from sand is to putt the ball out. A putting stroke should never hit behind the ball and with a little practice you can almost always get out. The question then becomes, can you get down in two more strokes?
The percentage of times mid-handicapped amateurs need more than one shot to escape the sand. Single-digit handicappers handle these shots better (they escape in one shot 90% of the time). All too often, leaving a shot in the sand leads to a disaster score: After fluffing one or two, you're apt to blade your next shot over the green into trouble.
FIND YOUR GO-TO SAND SHOT
To identify your go-to shot from sand, hit 10 balls with each technique outlined above. Count how often you fluff and leave shots in sand, or skull balls long. It's not how many good ones you hit; keep track of the bad ones. Your "go-to" shot is the one that gives you the lowest bad-shot percentage. You never know in this game when you'll need to play safe, and it's good to know how, when you need to do it!