Madelene Sagstrom of Sweden had her biggest breakthrough in her first LPGA Tour event of 2020, winning the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio. Sagstrom joined the LPGA Tour in 2017 after one of the most successful seasons on Symetra Tour history, with three victories and four top 10s in her rookie campaign. Known to be a good driver and solid putter, Sagstrom, now 27, might be at her best in greenside bunkers. In 2017, she finished seventh on the LPGA Tour in sand saves (60.24 percent), getting up and down 50 times. Here are her smart (and simple) tips to improve your bunker consistency.
First, Sagstrom offers a quick refresher on the standard instructions for a greenside bunker shot: “Take a wide stance, dig your feet in, hit the sand before the ball—you’ve probably heard all of that before,” she says. “For me, the key to good bunker shots is finding a balance between rhythm and speed. You need clubhead speed to get your wedge through the sand, but forcing speed can ruin your rhythm. I see amateurs trying to get their speed up by swinging harder or faster. If you do that, you’ll probably just dig your club into the sand and chunk the shot. The swing thought that works for me is, Get the club to the ball before the hands.“
That thought helps her create clubhead speed in a way that doesn’t make her overswing and lose control. “It’s the first step to being more consistent out of the bunker,” she says.
Her next tip also improves consistency: “Hit a few bunker shots and look at the sizes of the marks you’re leaving in the sand. I bet they’re all different,” Sagstrom says. “I think about taking a divot in the bunker that’s always the same length—about the amount of space between my thumb and index finger when they’re spread apart. The marks I make are actually longer than that, but focusing on that size makes my motion through impact concise. The results are more predictable.”
“YOU SHOULD TRY TO ENTER THE SAND IN THE SAME SPOT EVERY TIME.”
To get the ball out of the bunker and land it softly on the green, the clubface has to remain open through impact so it skims through the sand and doesn’t get stuck, Sagstrom says. “A lot of amateurs know to open the face and then grip the club at setup. But they forget about keeping the face open on their takeaway—or just don’t know how to do it,” she says. “The takeaway is key, because if you take it back open, you’re a lot more likely to come through with an open face.”
A drill to practice what an open-face backswing feels like is to scoop a little sand on the face of the wedge and then let it sit there as you pretend to hit a bunker shot, Sagstrom says. The goal is to keep the sand on the face until you reach the top of the backswing, then throw it over your shoulder (below). “If you’re spilling a lot of the sand before you reach the top, you know you’re closing the face,” she says.
If you have a tendency to swing down too steeply and get the club stuck in the sand, this next drill is for you, Sagstrom says. “Trust me, I know because I have a tendency to get too steep with greenside bunker shots.”
Her drill: Put a rake in the sand between your feet and the ball with the handle aligned a little left of the target. Play the ball forward of center in your stance, but make sure your stance is parallel to the rake line, not the target line. Now hit a bunker shot, trying to enter the sand behind the ball while swinging along the rake line (below). This swing direction along the rake line counters the open face of the club—so the ball flies at the target—and the forward ball position allows you to splash the sand. “I feel like the drill helps me take shallow divots,” Sagstrom says. “Just remember that you can only do this when you practice. When you play, just imagine that rake. You’ll start hitting great bunker shots.”