The spinning bunker shot hits the green, hops forward and then either stops dead or screws back towards the hole. It is a difficult and risky shot for the amateur player to attempt but it can be mastered by first understanding what happens at impact between the club, ball and sand during a bunker shot.
On a standard splash bunker shot (not loaded with backspin), the ball will leave the bunker on a carpet of sand, pitch and roll out several feet towards the hole. The trajectory and roll is caused by the golfer sliding into the sand about an inch before the ball, before sweeping down another inch into the sand and underneath the ball with a smooth tempo. On a normal splash bunker shot, the club face won't make any direct contact with the ball; the club moves the sand, the sand moves the ball.
If the golfer is faced with a shot from a bunker where more spin is required, there are ways to increase it.
1. Club head speed - To increase backspin out of a bunker, or with any shot, the golfer must increase their club head speed. The faster the golf swing, the more power is transferred on to the ball and the more backspin will be produced. More power can be produced in a bunker shot by increasing the length of the swing and amount of wrist hinge.
2. Take less sand - another way of increasing the amount of backspin is to decrease the amount of sand taken during the splash shot. The closer the club face comes to the ball, the more it can interact with it and produce the extra spin. This can be achieved by taking less sand, and hitting down behind the ball by about half an inch. This, however, is a risky tactic as a pure contact with the ball will increase backspin but also distance. The golfer must take this into account when deciding where to land the ball on the green.
3. Good grooves - Golfers should always try to maintain their golf clubs, especially their wedge grooves. Backspin is imparted when the grooves interact with the ball. By having clean, sharp grooves the golfer can increase the amount of backspin produced at impact.
There are a number of ways a golfer can increase the amount of backspin produced at impact out of a bunker. However, changes to both the swing speed and amount of sand taken at impact are technically challenging and carry a high amount of risk. Players should only attempt the shot when confident of success.
How Do I Spin the Golf Ball from the Bunker?
No one likes to find their ball in the bottom of a bunker. Obviously you would much rather keep your ball on the green part of the course throughout your round, avoiding places like bunkers and water hazards that can add strokes to your score. However, you are bound to hit your ball into a bunker from time to time, so you need to be prepared to get yourself out of trouble and back in position as quickly as possible. The good news is this – playing shots from the bunker is actually much easier than most amateurs believe.
At first, you will want to simply work on your ability to get the ball out of the sand. For instance, if you find your ball in a greenside bunker, just getting it out of that bunker and onto the green will be a victory – even if you aren't able to get close to the hole. With time, you will gain confidence in the sand, and you will start to realize that you are going to be able to get the ball out nearly every time. Once you have that belief, the next step will be working on getting the ball closer to the hole in order to set up par saving putts. For a good player, getting out of the sand isn't the accomplishment – it is getting up and down in just two shots that is the real goal.
To consistently place your ball near the hole from the bunker, you are going to need to learn how to control spin. Even if you have never been able to successfully spin the ball from the bunker yourself, you certainly have seen it done by the best players in the world. When a top pro hits a great greenside bunker shot, the ball will often bounce once or twice on the green before coming to an immediate stop. That stopping power is provided by the backspin that was placed on the ball at contact. By striking the shot just right, a good bunker player can impart a high rate of spin onto the ball, enabling it to come to a quick stop once it lands on the green.
As you might expect, it takes plenty of practice to learn how to consistently spin the ball from the bunker. If you just play a 'standard' explosion shot from the sand around the green, you aren't going to get much in the way of backspin on the ball. The technique that is used to hit a spinning bunker shot is actually quite similar to an explosion shot, with just a few key differences (which we will cover below). With that in mind, it is important that you already know how to hit a good explosion shot before you work on adding spin to the ball. If you can't yet hit a solid explosion shot, work on that aspect of your game first before taking on the task of learning how to spin it like a pro.
All of the content below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please be sure to reverse the directions as necessary.
Understanding the Bunker Shot
Bunker shots, especially those played from near the green, are unlike any other shots played around the course. When you play a greenside bunker shot, you aren't actually trying to hit the ball – you are trying to hit the sand behind the ball, which will lift the ball up out of the bunker and onto the green. This is a concept that is misunderstood by many amateur players. The greenside bunker shot is called an 'explosion' because of the way it is played – the sand is 'exploded' from under the ball, and the ball is lifted into the air as a result.
While this might sound like a complicated or challenging way to play a shot, it actually makes the game somewhat easier. When playing from the grass, you need to catch the ball just right in order to hit a good shot. From the bunker, however, you have a little bit of flexibility and margin for error. As long as the wedge enters the sand behind the ball, and it has enough speed to carry through the hitting area, you should be able to get the ball out of the bunker. Miss-hitting a ball even slightly from the fairway will usually lead to an ugly result, but you can usually get away with a small mistake in the sand.
So, how do you turn an explosion shot into a bunker shot that has enough backspin to stop quickly on the green? Simple – you hit closer to the ball. When you move your point of entry into the sand closer to the ball, you will increase the amount of spin that is placed on the ball. If you can clip the shot cleanly with only a small amount of sand between the club face and the ball itself, you will hit a shot that is loaded with spin. Of course, moving your contact point closer to the ball comes along with its risks, as you will be taking a chance on catching the shot thin and sending the ball shooting across the green.
It is this risk that needs to be understood clearly when considering your options in the bunker. If you want spin, you are going to have to risk blading the ball over the green – that's just how it works. The explosion shot is considered the 'safe' shot from the bunker because there is very little that can go wrong. You blast the ball out of the bunker, it rolls out for a while, and stops somewhere (hopefully) on the green. You don't have that much control over the ball, but you don't take on much risk, either. To add spin and gain control, you have to be willing to take on the extra risk of hitting the sand only a short distance behind the ball. At first, you won't be willing to take this chance very often, but your confidence should grow with practice and experience.
Spinning the ball out of the bunker Isn't always going to be the right choice. In fact, most of the time, you are going to want to opt for the standard explosion shot. Blasting the ball out of the bunker with plenty of sand is the right choice for the majority of bunker shots, as you will usually have room to let the ball run. For instance, when the hole is cut on the opposite side of the green from where you are in the bunker, go ahead and blast it out, using the run out to your advantage to get closer to the hole. Generally speaking, the only time you are going to want to pick the spinning bunker shot is when you absolutely need to stop the ball quickly – such as when you are playing from a bunker that is located close to the hole, or when the green is running downhill away from you.
To summarize, it is the standard explosion shot that you are going to want to rely on for the majority of your bunker play around the green. Once you learn how to spin the ball from the bunker, you should only use that spin on occasion, turning to it when you need to stop the ball quick. There is risk associated with hitting a spinning shot, so it is best to be play it safe with the explosion unless the circumstances demand spin.
Hitting a Spinner
Before you head to your local golf course to practice the spinning bunker shot, you need to know exactly what you are going to change about your technique in order to hit the spinner. As was mentioned above, you are going to start with your basic explosion shot swing, and make modifications from there. With that in mind, the following list includes three adjustments that you need to make to your technique in order to turn a standard explosion shot into one that carries a high rate of spin onto the green.
- Change your aim point. This tip was mentioned above, and it is the single most-important change that you are going to need to make to your technique. Instead of trying put the club into the sand three or four inches behind the ball, you should instead try to place the club head into the sand just an inch or so behind the ball. At first, this is going to be a difficult change to make, as you are likely comfortable with the way you play a normal explosion shot. To make the change, try drawing a line in the sand one inch behind the ball, and then aim for that line with your swing. If you are able to wipe out that line on the way into contact, you should be on your way to mastering the spinning bunker shot.
- More wrist action. You need plenty of club head speed through the shot in order to impart spin, and in the bunker, that means using your wrists aggressively. Without wrist action, the club head is going to drag through the hitting zone, and you won't have enough speed to really spin the ball. On the way down toward impact, allow your right hand to fire the club head under the ball so you can max out your swing speed at just the right moment. To learn the feeling of releasing the club with your right hand, practicing hitting a few bunker shots using only your right hand is a good idea. Play a few basic bunker shots while only your right hand is on the club, focusing on building as much speed as you can through the ball. Once that is complete, put your other hand back on the club and continue your practice session.
- Flat swing plane. You can usually get away with hitting down on a steep angle of attack when playing a standard explosion bunker shot. That isn't going to work, however, when trying to spin the shot. Instead, you are going to have to swing through the ball on a shallow angle of attack. Why? It's all about maintaining swing speed throughout the hitting area. If you hit down steeply, the sand is going to rob you of most of your speed, and you won't be able to spin the ball as a result. Hitting through on a shallow angle, on the other hand, will keep the sand out of your way so you can keep the speed of the swing up properly. Instead of the deep gauge of sand that you will take on a normal bunker shot, you should just be swiping a thin strip of sand while hitting a spinner.
The swing that you need to make to hit a spinning bunker shot really isn't much different from your usually explosion shot swing, but you will need to make the three adjustments listed above. Don't get frustrated if you don't have much success spinning the ball early on in the process – it is going to take some time to get comfortable with this shot. If you are willing to stick with it at first, you should start to see some progress in the relatively near future. Eventually, you will see enough progress during practice that you will be willing to test out the shot on the course during an actual round of golf.
Reading the Sand
The condition of the bunker is going to have a lot to do with how much spin you can create. Some sand conditions are perfect for generating spin, while others will make it nearly impossible. It is important that you learn how to 'read' the sand prior to picking out the shot you are going to play, as playing the wrong shot for the sand under your feet will lead to disastrous results.
When you want to hit a spinning shot, you should be looking for firm sand conditions. As you walk into the bunker, notice how much your feet are sinking into the sand. If you feel like you are walking on firm ground, you should be in good shape to attempt a spinning shot. Firm conditions will usually exist when there isn't very much sand inside of the bunker, or after there has been some heavy rain. Bunker conditions can change from day to day, or even within the same day, so always pay close attention to the status of the sand as you walk into the bunker.
For the purposes of hitting a spinning shot, the last thing you want to find in the bunker is soft, fluffy sand. When there is a lot of sand in the bunkers of the course you are playing, it will be nearly impossible to hit spinning greenside bunker shots. Fluffy sand is easy to spot, as your feet will slide around as you step into the bunker, and your ball will probably be sitting down in the sand as well. If you find your ball sitting in a bunker with plenty of soft sand all around, you would be best served to forget about the spinning shot and stick with the basic explosion. You never want to be 'fighting' against the conditions of the course, and that is exactly what you would be doing if you tried to hit a spinner from soft sand. Take your medicine and hit the explosion in this situation, even if that means you aren't able to get the ball as close to the hole as you would like.
Often, the sand that you find in the bunker will fall somewhere between the two extremes above – not particularly firm, but not all that soft, either. When that is the case, your ability to hit the spinner will come down to the lie of the ball. To spin the ball successfully, you need to have a good lie without much sand behind the ball. If the ball is sitting down in a little bit of a hole, you probably won't be able to get much spin. Just as you shouldn't be trying to fight the conditions of the bunker, you don't want to fight your lie either. Be realistic about the lie you have drawn and hit the kind of shot that is most likely to be successful given the circumstances.
The last piece of the puzzle that you need to consider when trying to spin the ball out of the bunker is the slope of the ground under your feet. As you know, very few bunkers are totally flat in the bottom – instead, you will usually have some degree of slope to deal with while playing this kind of shot. So what does the slope of the ground have to do with how you are going to hit your bunker shots? The following points should help clarify this matter.
- Spin not needed from upslope. When you find your ball on the upslope in a bunker, you shouldn't need to worry about spinning the ball in order to hit a good shot. Since the ball is going to come out high off of the upslope, you can use the loft of the shot to stop the ball without having to impart much spin. Playing the shot to stop based on loft rather than spin will give you a bigger margin for error than if you went for the spinner from this awkward lie. As long as you are able to create a comfortable stance that allows you to swing without falling off balance, you should be able to hit a nice explosion shot that leaves the ball close to the hole.
- Don't even try from the downslope. While it is technically possible to spin your bunker shots from a downslope, you would be best served to avoid the temptation to play this shot. In order to hit a shot that spins off of the downslope and still gets up in the air high enough to stop quickly, you will have to catch the shot almost perfectly. There is essentially no margin for error on this shot, which is why you should stick to your explosion shot when the ball comes to rest on a downslope. Take plenty of sand out of the bunker, put your ball somewhere (anywhere) on the green, and move on. The risk of hitting the ball thin while trying to impart spin just isn't worth the potential reward.
- Side slopes are a possibility. When the ball is above or below your feet, you can go ahead and try to spin the ball as long as you have a good lie and can get a good stance. It may be a little more difficult to catch the ball clean enough to spin it from a side slope, but it can be done. Make sure you actually need to use spin on the shot before going for it from a side hill lie – otherwise, you can just play the usual explosion and move on from there.
Spinning the ball out of a bunker isn't the hardest thing that you will try to do on the golf course – but it isn't the easiest, either. There is plenty that can go wrong when you go for spin in the sand, including hitting a line drive over the green and into trouble on the other side. Once you have learned how to hit this shot, be smart about when and where you decide to use it. This is the kind of shot that can be your best friend, but it can also be your worst enemy if it is deployed at the wrong time. As long as you pick your spots wisely, having the ability to hit a spinning greenside bunker shot can be a great advantage as you make your way around the course.