A famous Frenchman was once talking to me about golf. He is a great swordsman and occupies an important position in one of the greatest firms in France. The nature of his work brings him constantly face to face with many mechanical problems. He had attacked golf just as he would have undertaken any one of his business difficulties. I was astonished to find how much he had learned in his short acquaintance with the game. He knew more about the fundamental principles of it than most men who had played for more years than he had weeks.
I was much amused at one of his remarks, which has in it a great lesson for lazy learners. "The bunker," he said, in answer to my question as to his proficiency with the niblick, "does not annoy me any more. I knew that I should have to spend a good deal of my time there, so I took it all at once. I stayed in one of them, the worst I could find, for a day. Now we are good friends."
I feel that I need not point the moral.
The first thing one should do about being bunkered is to learn not to be angry about it. It really is not so difficult to do this as many people think. Many bunker shots are extremely beautiful and interesting, and if one were playing them merely as practise or in demonstrating the shot to a friend one would be quite pleased, if not indeed proud, to make them. It surely, therefore, needs no argument by me to convince any one that to approach the bunker as a friend, who will give one a chance to show one's control and skill, is much better than coming up to it feeling that it is a thief who is trying to steal something from one. Unless one can feel like this about the bunker one should live in one occasionally, not necessarily however for a day at a time.
I am satisfied that this matter is one of those that had better be left to the player. There is no place like the bunker for instruction as to how to get out of it. There are however some quite important matters that I may refer to shortly.
The most important thing when one is in a bunker-is to get out. No, I am not looking for a laugh here. Quite a number of people do not realize this. Many, even quite good golfers, refuse to accept this idea as practical golf and insist on "having a lash" to get distance when obviously the right thing to have done was to have played to get out and into position for the next stroke.
It is of course sometimes possible to play for distance if the ball happens to be lying well, but this is exceptional. Generally one has to make getting out, sometimes with a bit of distance included, sometimes merely getting out and into position, the first consideration.
A persistent delusion about bunker shots is that one must smite the sand and not the ball. This has been carried to such an extent that people now punch the sand unnecessarily far behind the ball. In very many cases the ball can be played by not taking the sand more than an inch or so from the ball. This varies of course with the state of the weather and the character of the sand, clay, gravel or other material on which the ball is lying. It is always well to aim behind the ball, quite apart from any other consideration, for, as one is not allowed to ground one's club in a bunker, there is always a slight tendency not to get right down to the stroke.
Many of the best bunker shots are played by a cut shot, the niblick being swung across from right to left. This cut gives a very quick rise.
In many cases one has to trust to a downright punch into the sand in which the ball is knocked out of the bunker by the concussion of the blow and not by contact with the club.
If ever there was a case which should teach the golfer to trust the loft of his club this is it. The greatest secret in getting up and out of a bunker is knowing how to hit down hard enough. One simply has to put all one's strength into the sand, thrash at it with wrists and arms like steel as if one intended to go on for a foot or two into it. There must be no idea of turning the face of the club up as we are sometimes told. Leave the loft to attend to itself and give the sand or other stuff the hardest punch you know how and don't do anything to stop that punch. Let the bunker absorb the follow-through. Unless you do this the stroke is not likely to be a success.
The variety of bunker shots is, however, so great that each one probably presents some point in stance, grip, swing or something else that can only be properly explained at the time in the bunker. Therefore, get thee to a bunker, preferably with a wise friend, but if such a one is not available, still, get thee to a bunker, with a trusty niblick and try the prescription of our French friend.
If one is lucky enough to have a lie which gives a fairly good chance of getting any distance, when distance is desired, one must remember that there is always a better chance of clearing the hazard if one plays the shot with some cut or slice. This must, however, depend in every case on the nature and position of the lie and the direction desired.
In playing any of these cut shots in a bunker, with any kind of a club, there must be no attempt whatever to do what one is so often told to do, namely, to draw the club in towards one at the moment of impact. Even when one is hitting the ball cleanly - and this is occasionally done in bunkers, although to read most books and articles one would think otherwise - it is fatal to attempt to pull the club across the ball at the moment of impact. I need hardly say what it would be if the same attempt were made with an ounce or two of sand between the ball and the club.