A sand trap placed in a troublesome position in the fairway or around the green can be a feared hazard in golf.
Most professional golfers have learned how to expertly deal with sand traps, or bunkers, but many amateurs try to avoid them to keep from possibly elevating the numbers on their scorecard.
In Colorado high school girls golf, approaches on how to handle the hazards vary. And with the season winding down — regionals were earlier this week and the state tournaments are set for May 22 and 23 — proficiency in escaping sand traps will keep scores from soaring.
For any golfer, having the right mental approach when faced with a stop in the sand is important.
To help keep them from seeming like daunting obstacles, Valor Christian coach Scotty Hofer doesn’t use the words “sand trap.”
“They are bunkers with sand,” he said. “If you call them sand traps, right away you are trapped and can’t get out. They are hazards. It is really not a hard shot for people used to making it.”
Hofer noted that sand shots, at least from greenside bunkers, are the only shots in which a player is not supposed to hit the ball first. Executed properly, a player’s highly lofted club — a sand wedge — strikes the sand behind the ball, popping the ball out of the trap.
When not hit correctly? The ball might stay in the bunker. Or it might come flying out like a missile.
‘Just don’t get in them’
Some believe the best strategy is to keep a healthy distance between themselves and bunkers.
That’s Arapahoe senior Beth Lebar’s approach. For her, an early trip to a trap can set a positive or negative tone.
“Like today, the first time I was in the sand, I hit it three times trying to get out,” Lebar said after competing in the Centennial League tournament in April at Broken Tee Englewood.“So the rest of the day I wasn’t super confident out of the sand.”
But for the most part, she has learned how to handle the obstacle. Lebar is a team captain and a four-year varsity player who is vying for her third state tournament appearance.
“I used to be really afraid to hit out of the sand, but now I know how to talk myself through it and kind of calm down a little bit and it’s not the worst place to be for me anymore,” Lebar said.
Ralston Valley senior Jordan Remley is one of the state’s best golfers and is headed for the University of Wyoming to play, but her performance in sand traps still needs work, she said. Like Lebar, she prefers to stay away from bunkers.
“I’d say they are one of my weak points,” she said. “My point is just don’t get in them. It can definitely be mental.
“I’m more confident that I used to be. I’m still working on it.”
The role of repetition
Practicing in traps is helpful.
“There are very few courses with sand to practice,” Arapahoe coach Patrick Wilson said. “Family Sports (in Centennial) is good but I tell the girls to make sure nobody is behind the trap in case they (mis-hit) a shot.
“We play the par 3 and I tell them to drop a ball in the sand. Don’t keep score, but practice getting out of the sand.”
Rock Canyon senior Brooklyn Murphy has improved at getting out of bunkers, and that has helped her lower her scores to the high 80s this season. She credits practice.
“I’ve improved by just practicing the shot and getting it consistent,” Murphy said. “Repetition of the same thing is really important and just relaxing every time you get into one — otherwise you get in your head, and a lot of times people struggle to get out and the ball stays in.”
Rock Canyon assistant coach Ron Saul just told Murphy to try to not spill water.
“What I taught her to make sand shots easier was to imagine a glass of water sitting on the club face and you have to hold it so you wouldn’t spill a drop, and swing in the bunker so you don’t spill a drop,” he said.
Legacy coach Mark Glen said, ultimately, high school players get out of sand traps just like anyone else.
“Like any other shot in golf, the more you practice a specific shot correctly, the better you get at it,” Glen said. “Can it become a mental obstacle? As I watch players on the LPGA and PGA tours, sure looks like they try to avoid them and bad shots do occur at times with that mental image.
“It is about humans, with faults, playing a game designed not only to test one’s physical capabilities but his or her emotional, mental and, at times, spiritual potential as well.”