For most televised PGA Tour events viewers, it would be easy to assume that professional golfers view sand traps as nothing more than a mild nuisance. Part of the reason is that the networks showing golf, primarily CBS, NBC and The Golf Channel, tend to show the good shots by players that are performing well.
Overall, players get up and down from bunkers about half the time, clearly not the regularity shown during tournament broadcasts. While it’s true that PGA Tour players are far more proficient than weekend golfers at getting out of sand traps and keeping from losing multiple shots to par, they can still struggle with what is intended to be a severe hazard.
The top ten players in sand save percentage on the PGA Tour during the 2020-2021 season all exceeded a rate of 60%, led by four-time major championship winner and 16th ranked player in the world Brooks Koepka at 65.4%. He had 51 saves from 78 bunkers hit in his 66 rounds played. That equates to about 1.5 sand traps hit per round, which is about average for the top players in the category.
Xander Schauffele, ranked fifth in the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR), was second in sand saves last season, getting up and down from the bunkers 64.7 % of the time. Australian Cameron Smith followed him at 63.2%. Smith gets plenty of practice from the sand, with 144 bunkers hit in his 89 rounds, an average of over 1.6 traps hit per 18 holes.
Among the top ten in sand saves, 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed leads in the number of bunkers hit per round at 1.74, so it’s helpful that he ranks sixth at 61.7%. Otherwise, his stroke average and 25th position in the OWGR would take a significant hit. Ben Taylor was tied for fourth at 61.7% at the other end of the spectrum, but only knocked the ball into 1.13 bunkers per round despite finishing outside the top 185 in the FedEx Cup points list for the second season in a row.
Former Players champion and eight-time Tour winner K.J. Choi tied with Taylor, but the 51-year-old is transitioning more toward the PGA Tour Champions, where he finished 24th in the Charles Schwab Cup in the elongated 2020-2021 season. Behind Reed in seventh place is former U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, who has a sand save rate of 61.68% andis adept at avoiding bunkers, hitting into less than 1.4 sand traps per competitive round.
Rounding out the top ten in sand save percentage are Ian Poulter in eighth at 61.6% while finding over 1.6 bunkers per round, Wyndham Clark in ninth place at 61.42%, and accomplished ball-striker Matt Kuchar, with a rate of 60.55%. In another, yet related measure, Reed, Poulter, and Simpson also were in the top ten in Strokes Gained: Around the Green, demonstrating short game prowess that goes beyond just their ability to recover from errant shots into greenside sand traps.