When All You Can See are the Bunkers

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When All You Can See are the Bunkers

Here's a plan for shifting your focus to handle those seemingly unavoidable hazards
When all you see are bunkers

Written By:

Sara Robinson

Sara is a Mental Skills Coach specializing in work with athletes. She received her M.A. in Sports Psychology from John F. Kennedy University and did her undergraduate work at New York University. Sara also helps support busy working moms develop their mental skills and create more balance at getmombalanced.com.

Have you ended up in a bunker?

Sure, you have.

Have you ever gotten stuck in a bunker?


Bunkers, water, and hitting out-of-bounds are a part of golf. Though you can avoid them by improving your skill and always hitting fairway shots, you know by now that’s not realistic. Even the pros end up in the hazards.

The problem is not the hazards themselves. The problem is how we mentally deal with them, both before we end up there and after.

I’m going to let you in on a secret: If you’re worried about landing in the bunker, hitting into the water, or ending up in the rough, you might actually be causing it to happen. You’re creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Think about it: Even if you’re telling yourself “Don’t end up in the water,” or “Avoid the trees,” you’re still actually paying attention to them. You have shifted your focus away from what it takes to make an effective shot, and at least part of your attention is on the hazards.

Some golfers become unable to see anything but the hazards. This can happen when you’re in a bit of a slump and have had bad shots more times than you’d like to admit or can happen if you’re feeling pressured about playing well.

Whether you’re focused solely on the hazards, or only partially, the fact remains the same: you’re not focused on the right aspects of your golf game at the right time.

What can you do when all you can see are the bunkers?

  • Become aware
    First off, you need to notice that this is happening. Without noticing that you’re paying attention to, or, are worried about, hitting into a hazard, you can’t do anything about it.
  • Focus appropriately
    Rather than telling yourself, “Don’t hit into the water,” or “Avoid the trees,” focus on what you need to do to make an effective shot. For example, be consistent with your pre-shot routine, and give yourself a technical correction to execute your shot.
  • Breathe
    By taking some deep breaths, you can help yourself relax. Check your grip too. If you’ve got extra tension, even a bit, this can negatively affect your shot and send your ball right toward what you’re trying to avoid.
  • Use imagery to experience yourself hitting a successful shot to prime your body and brain to hit your target.
    If you don’t use imagery much, this one might be challenging and you might not see the shot successfully. If in your imagery you experience yourself also hitting into the hazards, this is a sign to spend more time mentally rehearsing your shots.
  • Have a plan for what to do when you end up in a hazard.
    Notice I said when not if. You’ll end up in a hazard, but if you have a plan for how to deal with it, you might experience less worry about how to deal with it. For example, you’ll take an extra minute to breathe and think positively so that you can go into the shot feeling more confident and ready rather than anxious and rushed.
  • Practice dealing with the hazards.
    Spend some time dropping your ball into the sand or the weeds. Add the penalty for being in the water and practice coming back from those moments. This will help to build up your ability to handle these moments both physically and mentally.

As a golfer, there are many potential distractions and the hazards are ones that you’ll want to learn to deal with. Having a plan for how to appropriately focus, as well as how to handle the hazards will hopefully help you feel more calm, prepared, and able to focus on what you want to do, as opposed to what you want to avoid.

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Sandi Higgs

So true! The last thought before you take the club back HAS to be what you WANT to do! Not what you don’t want to do. This is one reason some people have a problem taking their driving range game to the course. On the range you swing pretty freely – you aren’t thinking about avoiding a hazard or OB area. Once you get on the course and look down that fairway all kinds of other thoughts start entering your head.


Yes, Sandi! It’s so important to practice controlling your thoughts just like you practice controlling your golf swing! Thanks for reading, Sara