Fairway bunker shots are probably among the toughest in golf, and that is true for players at every level of the golf game. From the awkward approach distances of 50 to 70 yards, to the longest of fairway sand shots, the first priority is always getting the ball back into play. Selecting the right club to comfortably hit out of the hazard is also crucial.
Be smart and realistic, particularly with the longer fairway bunker shot. For starters, evaluate how the ball is sitting in the sand, and how high the front lip of the bunker is. But if the lie is reasonable, and you are confident of hitting the green or a good lay-up spot on the fairway – without risk of leaving the ball in the sand – then by all means go for it.
On the other hand, if you have drawn a medium to poor lie, and have no chance to significantly advance the ball, do the smart thing. Play a shot you can hit safely back into play- even if it means going sideways. Then you can go for the green, and still give yourself a putt for par.
Short fairway bunker shots
Short par-4s and par-5s often feature sand traps set farther back than the traditional greenside bunker. Designed to capture any offline or short approach shot, they can lie some 30 yards out, or up to 70 yards away. Hitting these long bunker shots is tricky because the golfer needs to strike the sand very close to the ball to ensure a good contact. It’s therefore essential to take a consistent cut of sand in executing these shots.
Treat these par-wreckers like you would a low pitch from the fairway. At address, play the ball toward the back of a slightly open stance and keep a little more weight on the left side. Choke slightly down on the club and set the club face square.
This shot is control through the motion of the upper body, with the upper torso centered and the lower body very stable throughout the shot, especially at impact, as this allows you to hit about an inch or less behind the ball.The speed of the follow-through regulates your distance control.
Once you max out your wedge distances from the farther bunkers, aim to strike the ball first, just as you would a regular pitch shot. The cleaner contact enables you to comfortably cover your yardage.
Long fairway bunker shots
Once you evaluate your lie, select a golf club with enough loft to comfortably clear the front lip of the bunker. Generally speaking, unless you are an elite-level player, you should never hit out of a fairway bunker with anything more than a 6 or 7 iron. Remember: getting the ball back into play is a priority, particularly when faced with a poor lie. And, it’s no disgrace to safely lay up in front of the green. As we said, smart golf is a good golf. This option still leaves you with a shot at saving par if you hit a decent approach, and then make the putt.
But if you have a decent lie, and the lip is far enough away, consider your yardage and then simply take an extra club. For instance, if you have 150 yards to the green and normally hit a 7 iron that distance, pull out a 6 iron. This extra-club strategy allows you to swing smoothly and offsets the need to choke down slightly on the club and clip the ball off the top of the sand. Both factors reduce the overall distance the shot will carry.
Play the ball slightly forward of center and dig your feet in, a must for any shot from the sand but particularly so for the fairway bunker shot. As part of your pre-shot routine, try to focus on maintaining a stable lower body motion. This allows you to swing smoothly with the upper body and arms and to strike the ball cleanly off the top of sand.
Another little trick to employ when hitting the fairway bunker shot is to focus your eyes on the equator of the golf ball throughout the shot. That ensures ball-first contact, and even if you hit a little thin, that is far more preferable to hitting it fat, taking some sand, and reducing your distance – or worse.
Remember to also stay down through impact, and swing rhythmically to a balanced finish.