Most players understand they should open the club face at address when playing a bunker shot to help ease the ball up and out on to the green, but many ask how much they should open the face.
There are a number of different factors which should be taken into account when deciding how much to open the club face for a bunker shot.
Club face angle
The first question a golfer should ask themselves is what is the loft of my club? The amount a player should open up a 54 degree wedge and a 62 degree wedge for the same shot will vary enormously. A 54 degree sand wedge would have to be opened by around 45 degrees to achieve a loft of about 62 degrees. If the 62 degree wedge was also opened by 45 degrees the loft would be increased into the 70 degree, possibly 80 degree mark. This is important because the shots produced by using these different clubs with the same swing and set up will produce different results. The lower the loft, the lower the ball flight, the higher the loft, the higher the ball flight.
Distance of the shot
The second thing a player should consider is the distance of the bunker shot about to be played. By using different club lofts, a player can achieve different distances with the same swing but they can also do the same with different set up positions. If a golfer only opens up the club face of their 54 degree sand wedge by a fraction they only have to open their stance by the same amount. This will produce a lower ball flight but also more distance. The nearer the target, the more a player should open the club face.
Many golfers are afraid of opening up the club face when finding themselves in a bunker, it's an unnatural thing to do outside a bunker with the exception of flop shots. Players unsure or unconfident about opening up the club face should try this drill.
1. Take a sand wedge or lob wedge.
2. Open up the club face so it points straight up at the sky.
3. The golfer should be able to balance a glass of water upon the face or for something closer to hand, players can try to balance a ball on the face instead.
4. Let the ball roll off the face into the bunker but keep the club face open and in the same position.
5. Take the grip keeping the club face open and practice hitting shots entering into the sand a few inches behind the ball.
Many golfers will be amazed at how easy it is to lift the ball out of the sand and on to the green.
How Much Should I Open the Golf Club Face in a Bunker?
Hitting shots from the bunker is a part of life on the golf course. Obviously, you would love to be able to stay out of the traps altogether, but that simply isn't a realistic goal. Even the best golfers hit the ball into the sand from time to time, so you need to have reliable technique to get your ball back onto the grass a quickly as possible. Unfortunately, this is a shot that scares many amateur golfers for a variety of reasons. To get over any fear you may have of hitting from a greenside bunker, you need to spend time specifically working on this part of your game.
One of the key elements to bunker play is knowing how much to open the club face prior to making your swing. In this article, we are going to address that very question, along with other points related to greenside bunker shots. The goal of this article is simple – to take away any fear that you might have in the back of your mind regarding greenside bunker play. If you can turn this part of your game from a weakness into a strength, you will suddenly be able to cut strokes off of your score. Even if you only hit into the sand once or twice per round, being able to get up and down in those situations will keep your score on track.
Of course, as you already know, the position of your club face during a bunker shot is only one of a number of variables that you will need to consider. We are going to talk about the club face in this article, but we are also going to dive into a number of other topics. It would be a mistake to talk about the club face and nothing else, as that would leave you with an incomplete picture of how to get your ball out of the sand. Bunker play isn't necessarily the hardest part of the game, but it certainly is one of the most complicated skills to learn. Once you bring it together, however, you will have a technique that can serve you well for many years to come.
Before we get into the instruction, it is important to point out that you need to have the right clubs in your bag in order to handle the bunker challenges you are likely to encounter on the course. Yes, you should have a sand wedge in your set, but that one club alone will not be enough. In addition to the sand wedge, which is probably around 55* loft, you should also have a lob wedge which is 58*- 60*. With those two clubs available, you will be able to pick the right one for each shot that you face.
All of the content below is based on a right-handed golfer. If you happen to play left-handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
Positioning the Club Face Properly
Let's get right to it – we are going to start off this article by talking about the question which was posed in the title. How much should you open the club face when playing a greenside bunker shot? Do you even need to open it up at all at address? After all, the club you are using should already have 55* - 60* of loft, which would seem like enough for most situations. To handle that second question first, yes, you need to open up the face of your wedge when addressing the ball. As to how much you are going to open the face, well that depends on a number of factors.
First, let's discuss how you are going to set up when playing a 'standard' bunker shot. By standard, we mean that you have a good lie in the sand, you don't have to hit the shot particularly far, and the lip in front of you isn't particularly high. When those conditions are in place, you will need to open the face approximately halfway between a square position and laying it flat on its back. In other words, you will want to set up with about 70* - 75* of loft on the club face. At this point, you will have no trouble getting the ball to pop up into the air, and the shot should come down relatively softly when it lands.
Of course, you aren't always going to face standard bunker shots, so you need to know how to adjust in order to produce the right shot for the situation at hand. To understand how you can adjust your club face positioning based on the circumstances you find in the bunker, check out the list below.
- Square up on firm sand. When you find firm sand in the bottom of the bunker, you are going to want to keep the club face relatively square to the target as you hit the shot. If you were to turn the face open, the bottom of the club would likely 'bounce' off of the sand on the way through – and you would hit the shot thin as a result. By squaring up the face, it will be easier to dig the club into the sand, meaning you can get under the ball and move it up into the air. These kinds of shots will not fly as high as those hit with an open face, but they are your best bet on firm sand.
- Wide open on a downslope. If your ball is sitting on a downslope near the back of the bunker, you are going to need as much loft as possible to get the ball up and out successfully. As long as you have a decent lie, lay the face flat open and swing down along the slope of the ground. This is always going to be a difficult shot to execute, but keeping the face dramatically open will give you the best chance for success. As you swing down, remember to keep your speed up and accelerate the club all the way through to the finish. It is easy to decelerate in this situation, a mistake which will almost certainly cause the ball to be left in the bunker.
- Less loft from the upslope. The story is just the opposite when your ball comes to rest on an upslope. If you are near the front of the bunker, the ground beneath your feet is almost certainly going to be sloped up toward the target. When that is the case, the ball will naturally pop up high into the air – even if you barely open the club face at address. Given the lie at hand, keep the face relatively square and let the slope of the ground add loft to your shot. The ball will come out high and soft, and it will not bounce or roll far after it lands.
- Open face from a fluffy lie. If the bunkers on the course you are currently playing have deep, fluffy sand in the bottom, you are going to want to turn the club open in order to expose the bounce on the bottom of the sole. You need this bounce angle to help the club slide through the sand without digging in too quickly. Keeping the club square in this instance would cause the club to catch too much sand and you would lose the speed of your swing before you even reach the ball. Many players struggle with this kind of shot simply because they keep the face in a square position. Instead of making that mistake, lay the club flat and swing it under the ball with confidence.
While it is helpful to have a game plan before you ever step foot in a bunker, the best thing you can do on this point is to gain experience. As you hit more and more bunker shots over the years, you will naturally become better at judging how much you should be opening the face. Anytime you visit a new course, try to find a practice bunker before you start your round in order to get an idea for the style of bunkers you will be facing for the day. With an understanding of how the sand will play, you will have the best possible chance to get up and down when you do wind up in a trap.
Other Key Fundamentals
As mentioned above, the angle of your club face at address is just one minor piece of the puzzle. In order to produce quality bunker shots, you are going to need to have many other fundamental keys in place before you step foot in the sand. To make sure you are as prepared as possible to play great explosion shots out of the bunkers at your local course, please review and practice the points below.
- Make a big swing. There is no way around this key point – you have to make a big swing if you are going to hit a proper explosion shot. While you may only be a few yards from the target, you still need a big swing. Since you are going to put the club in the sand at least a couple inches behind the ball, you need to be sure to have plenty of momentum in order to carry the club through the sand effectively. Only when you make a big swing will you be able to avoid having your wedge get stuck in the sand prior to impact. This is the point that many amateur golfers struggle with, feeling like they can't make a big swing while standing so close to the green. Don't let that mental hurdle get in your way – trust this shot, swing hard, and watch the ball float beautifully up onto the green.
- Use plenty of hand action. This is where a bunker shot is going to differ most significantly from a regular chip shot out of the grass. When chipping from the grass, you need to keep your hands relatively quiet while using your big muscles to move the club. You still need to use your big muscles when playing a bunker shot, but you need your hands and wrists to get in on the action as well. Give the club as much speed as you can through the hitting area by releasing your hands and the ball should pop out of the sand without much trouble at all.
- Keep your head still. Even though you are making a large, aggressive swing, you still need to keep your head down and still through the shot. If you look up early at all, you will run the risk of hitting the shot thin – which is the last thing you want to do in a bunker. Since there is so much speed involved in hitting a bunker shot, striking the ball thin can be a disaster. Unless the lip in front of you catches the ball, a thin bunker shot can rocket over the green and off into the distance. Frequently, this kind of shot will come to rest beyond the golf course property entirely. Even if the ball does stop on the course, you will be faced with a difficult shot to follow and a big score will be likely to land on your card.
- Swing across the ball. Many of the things you are asked to do in the bunker are different from what you have to do on the rest of the course. For instance, you wouldn't intentionally hit the ball fat when playing from the grass, but hitting behind the ball is necessary on an explosion shot. The story is much the same when talking about the swing path you are going to use for bunker shots. Instead of swinging directly down the target line, as you do for most shots, you are going to intentionally swing across the ball. This kind of swing would likely produce a slice from the grass, but out of the bunker it will simply help you get the ball up in the air. Open your stance at address, swing along your foot line, and the club will cut under the ball nicely.
Bunker shots are challenging for new golfers. Fortunately, you should be able to master this technique after a bit of practice time. Pay attention to all of the various points within the bunker game and consider recording your technique on video to make sure you have things working properly.
Planning Your Shot
As is always the case in golf, you need to plan your shot before swinging the club when playing from a bunker. If you fail to plan your shot properly, it will be highly unlikely that you will wind up with a short putt for par when all is said and done. If you are going to get up and down at a high rate, you need to plan out the bunker portion of this short game challenge properly.
So what do you need to think about when planning a bunker shot? Consider the following points.
- Pick a landing spot. This is your first job when you step down into the bunker. By picking a landing spot first, you will be able to go through the rest of the process with confidence. Where do you want the ball to land in order to have it bounce and roll the rest of the way to the cup? Sometimes, you might want to land the ball right next to the hole, using loft and spin to stop it in its tracks. Or, on other occasions, you may decide to land the ball short and run it out the rest of the way. This decision will depend not only on the lie of the ball and the slope of the ground, but also on your own personal preference. Some golfers like tossing the ball way up in the air, while others prefer to play a ground game. Whatever the case is for you, stick to your strengths and pick a landing spot that makes you comfortable.
- Select a club. Now that you have a landing spot in mind, it should be easy to pick the right club for the job. If you are going with a high-flying blast from the sand, you will want as much loft as you can find in your bag. On the other hand, a shot which you would like to bounce and roll up to the target will be played with your sand wedge or even your pitching wedge. This is one of the best reasons to start by picking your landing spot – working in this order makes club selection a breeze.
- Watching for big trouble. As you are in the process of planning out your shot, be careful to watch for signs of big trouble. What classifies as big trouble? Basically anything that can jeopardize your chances of getting the ball out of the bunker in one shot. You don't want to have to swing twice – or more – in the sand, so always form a plan which makes it likely that you will get out in a single swipe. For instance, if there is a high lip between your ball and the hole, consider aiming to one side or the other in order to give yourself more room. Taking risks is never a good idea in the sand, as your score can add up quickly in this situation. Get out safely and live to fight another day.
It isn't always the golfer with the best skills who comes out on top at the end of the round. Sometimes, success in golf is as simple as making a good plan and then executing that plan cleanly. By picking smart shots and staying within your limits, you can do wonders for your score.
The Right Way to Open the Face
To finish up our bunker play discussion, we need to return back to the topic of opening up the club face when playing from the sand. It is important to understand that there is a right and wrong way to lay the face open. While this might seem like a subtle, unimportant point, it is actually critical to your success. Get this point wrong and your bunker shots will be destined to fail.
When you are going to open up the face of one of your wedges in order to hit a bunker shot, you need to open the face first, before taking your grip. Many amateur golfers get this one wrong. Were you to take your grip first before twisting the club open at address, the club would simply slam back shut as soon as you made your swing. Only when you open the club first and then take your grip will you actually be playing with a club face that can stay open throughout the swing.
To make sure you stay on track with this point, step into the bunker while holding the club in just your right hand. Take your stance, hover the club head behind the ball, and manipulate the face into an open position. Then, with the face open, place your left hand on the grip and secure your fingers. With your left hand in control of the club, adjust your right hand to match up with your left, and you will be ready to go. This process will only take a couple seconds, but it will leave you in a perfect spot to make your swing.
There is no reason to be afraid of bunker shots. Sure, they might seem intimidating at first, but you can overcome that intimidation through consistent practice and attention to detail. From the position of your club face to the swing itself, you need to get all the little points right if you are going to succeed from the sand around the greens. In time, you can go from nervous bunker player to a confident master of the traps. Good luck!