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How to Get Out of Life's Sand Bunkers

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Are there days in your life that happened many years ago that you can vividly still recall? You can feel the wind, the warmth of the day, the smells and colors. You can remember what clothes you had on. You can remember who was with you.

Well, our most memorable days are usually our most emotional ones. During those days, we were challenged or provoked, positively or negatively.

And so it was on that March day in 1992 that I was experiencing one of “those days” on the golf course. It was a Friday and I was hopeful that I would have a quality round of golf before heading in for a nice meal around 6 p.m., the start of a relaxing evening. But it just wasn’t to be.

For you see, on that day I was experiencing the repetitive misfortune of hitting my golf ball either in fairway sand bunkers or green side bunkers. As I recall, on the 18 holes I played that day, I “succeeded” in landing in 16 bunkers. And, it gets worse. What really got me riled up is that I LACKED THE SKILL to get out of those sand bunkers.

So there I was: for 4 and a half hours, seemingly living in the sandpit of hell. I was miserable. I was embarrassed. It was humid, I was hot. I was full of gritty sand, seemingly lodged in undiscovered body crevices. I lost every bet to every person I was playing against that day. And by the 18th hole, after paying off all my losses and not taking it out on my playing partners, I walked to the corner of the driving range where the practice bunker awaited the arrival of my sorry ass. Beleaguered and beaten. The sand had won.

Folks, it was there that I “lost it.” Yep I boiled over, got pissed off, or, as we say down in South Louisiana, I caught the “red ass.”

I proceeded to have a nice long, enthusiastic talk with myself and decided in that fury of self-dialogue that I was not going home until I learned how to hit a shot out of the sand bunker.  So I called my wife and told her my plan. “I am dropping 500 golf balls into the practice sand bunker, and I’m going hit every darn one of them.” It was a short conversation, as you might expect.

I rounded up 500 balls and began to: PRACTICE! 

Question: Are you mature enough to accept the fact that there are areas that you lack skill?

Many people get stuck on stupid in this key stage. Why? Because they live in a state of constant denial. I had to be honest with myself and admit that I had a problem, and I was the only person who could take the steps necessary to fix it.  

So into the practice sand bunker I went. Early on, I m not going to lie to you, it was 8 and I was still working to get the anger and frustration out of my being. Balls went everywhere. Then a small discovery was made. Swing harder and swing THROUGH the sand, not AT the sand.

My backswing in the sand became more relaxed. The next 200-300 balls were still not landing with any reasonable pattern or control, but the balls were successfully leaving the sand.  Side note: Leaders are sometimes way too impatient because they are expecting immediate complete results.

The practice bunker taught me to embrace small incremental improvements because they always precede the big result you are ultimately seeking. 

I seem to recall taking a break and grabbing a swig of water after pounding about 300 balls. The transformation of my bunker skills had begun. Right now, I can remember re-entering that bunker with a sense of calmness that I had never had before. I had faced my fear head-on and it was working, but not without massive action.  (Did you catch that last line? Go back and read it again. Slowly.)  During the last leg of hitting the final 200 balls, I began to fine-tune the more intricate details of bunker play. I began to do things like “feeling” the back swing and “visualizing” what type of swing is needed to propel the ball into the air at the right distance. I noticed other things, like hitting out of a thin bunker lie (a bunker shot that has very little sand at the base of the ball) or a fluffy lie (a bunker shot that has far too much sand all around it, making the shot very unpredictable upon its exit). 

Here’s what happened. After crawling out of that practice bunker — 500 balls later — I was exhausted. I was spent. I was also happy, fulfilled and excited about the next day on the course.

The time would come that I would master bunker play in the heat of competitive rounds, but it would have to be delayed. Because, you see, in my trance-like practice, I had created blisters and both hands were bleeding and beginning to swell. 

So here are the lessons to focus on:

  1. Develop the ability to recognize that you lack a certain skill(s):
  2. Embrace your issues of denial
  4. If you have a problem then it is your problem to fix!
  5. Embrace small incremental improvements.
  6. Face your fear, then conquer it with massive action.
  7. Sometimes you have to push yourself to the brink before you can realize your true potential
  8. Far better it is to spend time in recuperation, knowing that it was time well spent in the pursuit of better skills or a worthy goal.

Use this article in an “alone” session. And yes, you should have a meditative “alone” session at least once a week. No kids, no spouse, no distractions, no phones, no co-workers, usually inspired by or in nature.

Find your quiet place and set an appointment to re-find that place at regular intervals. The process will invigorate you in ways beyond your imagination. Try it, then drop me a line about your experience at [email protected].