For many amateur golf players, the bunkers on any golf course are the burial grounds of their scoring hopes. They typically try to muscle the ball out by taking to much sand, and then leave the ball in the hazard. Or, they fail to take any sand, and pick the ball cleanly – which usually leads to a bladed shot over the green.
Bunker shots are unique for one simple reason – you are not trying to make contact with the ball. In fact, you don’t make contact with the ball. Once you grasp the concept, you’re on the way to improve and taking the fear out of these shots.
The key to great bunker play is the ability to get the ball out and onto the green by sliding the club head underneath the ball. In doing so, the golfer needs to take only a shallow divot of sans. But to do this consistently, you have to understand how to use the bounce and loft on your sand wedge in conjunction with technique.
If you still struggle from the sand, dedicate some quality practice time to bunker play, trying to apply ideas, concepts, and drills we share.
Once you master the basic elements of bunker shot, you’ll begin to understand why the pros typically favor a bunker shot, especially over a green side chip from the deep rough.
Golf is always about the ability to control the ball. With a decent lie in a bunker, you have every chance of imparting spin on the ball and getting it to stop close to the hole. Once you know how to do that, you’ll gain confidence and feel, turn a weakness into a strength, and, like the pros, find out just how easy bunker shots really are.
Here at the Leadbetter Indoor Golf Academy, in Bangkok, we have a state-of-the art short-game play facility with a real sand bunker that offers our students and visitors every opportunity to refine their bunker play.
The fundamentals of the basic bunker shot
Let’s start with a decent lie in the bunker. Take your sand wedge and open the face before completing your grip. This set-up fundamental is essential since it exposes the bounce of the club’s sole, and that allows you to aggressively slide the club through the sand, rather than dig it in with the leading edge.
But notice that we said open the face before completing your grip. Trying to open the club face after you’ve taken your normal grip simply does not work. Trust us on this one. Unless you are magician with your hands, gripping first and then trying to open the blade afterward will ensure it is actually closed or square at impact – and the result will not be good.
The other benefit to ensuring that your club face is open when it hits the sand is that the bounce effect gives you control over how much sand you displace, and that greatly improves your distance control.
Perhaps more than any other shot in golf, hitting out of a hazard starts with the proper address position. Align your body some 20 to 30 degrees open in relation to your target line, with your feet about shoulder width apart. Play the ball forward and maintain about 70 percent of your weight on the left side.
Now set your hands slightly back – unlike the forward shaft lean you use for most chip and pitch shots. This different position is particularly useful in deep, fluffy sand, and another effective set-up key when it comes to maximizing the club’s bounce.
Finally, dig your feet into the sand to establish a firm base. From there, all you need do is trust the design of your sand wedge and swing the club along your body line- focusing your eyes on a spot just a couple of inches behind the ball. Splash the club face through the sand right at that spot.
As with all short game shots, remember to accelerate through the ball. Staying aggressive on sand shots is particularly important, as the cushion of sand between the club face and the ball absorbs the speed of your swing. That’s why most green side sand shots also call for a fairly complete backswing, despite the short distance you are flying the ball.
Which leads us to that other key element of all short-game shots: distance control.
When hitting from the sand, vary the length and speed of your follow-through in conjunction with the openness of the club face to control how far you want the ball to fly. For short bunker shots, open the club face a little more at address and take some pace and length off the follow-through. For a longer shot, open the face a little less- again, before completing your grip- and commit to a more complete follow-trough.
This technique will encourage the ball to carry farther with more forward momentum and roll.