Trap shots actually are among the easiest shots in golf. The thing that makes them so terrifying is the fact that the trap is a natural hazard, and golfers are just not set up psychologically to accept hazards without some element of panic. The average player also makes the mistake of feeling that she must help the ball up and on its way. The only way a trap shot can be played successfully is to play it as you would any other shot—with ease and concentration, the basic elements of stance and swing modified to a degree, but only a degree.
Now, the major difference between trap shots and others is that the trap shot requires that you hit sand first and then take the ball. Generally speaking, I hit the sand about an inch to an inch and a half behind the ball. You see, it is the sand, more than the loft of the club, that gets the ball out of the trap. And it is the sand that gives the ball as much back-spin as you can get on a trap shot. However, before I expound on this, let's look at the clubs you have to work with.
For my trap shots, I use a double-service niblick, but that's because I have so many clubs in my bag that I haven't room for more than one wedge, and the niblick I'm talking about is fine for certain fairway shots as well as the traps. This allows me to stay within the 14-club limit imposed by the USGA. The sand wedge, with its wide sole, will also do the job, and there are some people who prefer the 11-iron, which has more loft than the nine-, not quite so wide a sole as the wedge and is not quite as heavy. I personally feel that the niblick I use and the wedge are designed for heavy duty and will get you out of any kind of sand, whereas the 11-will sometimes require a substitute. But here again, it's a question of the individual golfer's preference.
The major reason for my choice, beyond the confining limits of the 14-club maximum, is that the double-service niblick eliminates the necessity for changing clubs when I encounter different qualities of sand. Obviously, there are not only different grades of sand, but different consistencies within the same grade. Powder sand can turn into something like either glue or granite, depending on the amount of rain the course has had. This means that your stance varies according to the distance you hit behind the ball. The lighter the sand, the farther behind the ball you can hit and the more open the stance. Conversely, in heavy sand or gravel, you must square your stance slightly and hit directly behind the ball. Here it is absolutely impossible to give accurate directions in terms of inches away from the ball, or the degrees to which the stance is opened in specific situations. These combinations are intangibles that the golfer can learn only through experience.
The first thing to remember when you've landed in a trap is that, since the trap is a hazard, it's against the rules to ground your club. You must hold the clubhead slightly above the sand and you must not touch the sand on the backswing, nor are you allowed to pick up pebbles, leaves, sticks or any other natural objects that may have found their way into the trap. The penalty for either of these misdemeanors is two strokes. You can, however, remove man-made objects such as soda bottles and cigarette butts. You may not obliterate someone else's footprints: if you've had the misfortune to land in the print of a discourteous golfer who played through before you, you'll have to grin and bear it. (You should erase your own footprints as you leave the trap.)
The stance for an ordinary trap shot is an open one, with the left foot pulled away from the line of flight so that the player's body is almost facing the target. You should also be sure that your stance is a firm one—with the feet planted in the sand rather than on top of it. The ball is played well forward, off the instep of the left foot. This open stance automatically makes the golfer take the club outside the line of flight. I feel that I'm swinging it out—perhaps pushing it is a better description—with the left hand. Here again, the left hand and side lead. My grip is the usual overlapping one I use for all my shots except putting. Remember, the trap shot is played like any other. But if fluidity—smoothness—is important at any time during the game, it is absolutely essential here. This is one time when you can't afford even a small twitch, because that would cause the club to hit into the sand and hang there, just as though it were hung on the root of a tree. So, swinging back down smoothly, I cut right across the ball, which also helps throw it up in the air. I do not open the face of the club. That would give me a tendency to shank the ball, so I keep the blade square throughout the shot. I also feel that by hitting it slowly and deliberately, I use my hands and wrists a lot, which means that I can flip the ball if it's sitting cleanly in the sand—or on top of it, to put it another way.
SOFT HIT FROM SOFT SAND
If the ball has hit soft sand with a decisive plop, it will usually be buried, with a well or depression around it. I try to hit the edge of that depression. When a ball is in this position, it won't have much backspin. I just hit lightly and allow the ball to run a little farther on the green.
Another instance in which the player needn't hit the ball with full authority is when it is on the uphill side of the trap. Then the ball will fly up suddenly anyway, since the blow will be coming up under it. In this situation, you should have the feeling that you are floating the ball out. Here again, your left hand leads. You take the sand first, and the ball will sail up a bit after that. Obviously, the follow-through on this shot will not be a complete one (your hands will pass the ball, but just that), since your body is already off balance and an attempt to follow through normally would send you sprawling back into the trap.
TAKE THE TOUGH ONES IN STRIDE