It's almost a rhetorical question, why should golfers use a sand wedge from a greenside bunker?
Although the question seemingly doesn't require an answer, how many people would be able to give the exact reasons why a sand wedge works better than a 4 iron, a 6 iron, or even a pitching wedge from the sand? To analyze why the sand wedge is good choice for greenside bunker shots we must first understand the club's design which was inspired by a legendary golfer.
All sand wedges are designed to include various degrees of bounce. Bounce was first introduced by Gene Sarazen in the early 1930's and helped him roar to success at the 1932 British Open. He altered his most lofted club so the rear edge of the sole was lower than the front. The revolutionary sole design allowed Sarazen to hit down into the sand behind a ball but not dig into the ground. The bounce caused the rear edge of the sole to impact the sand first and helped the club 'glide' upwards. Sarazen called the club a 'sand iron'.
If golfers wish to see the difference a bounce angle can make they should test their sand wedge against other clubs. Most golfers would struggle to shift the ball out of a greenside bunker when using a pitching wedge; this is because a pitching wedge has far less bounce angle as it's predominantly used off the fairway. Sand wedges often come with bounce angles of about 10 degrees but specialist bounce options are available. Golfers who find they still struggle to lift the ball from greenside bunkers should try a sand wedge with more bounce.
Sand wedges normally have a loft between 54 and 58 degrees. Quite simply, the higher the loft, the higher the ball will go when struck from the centre of the club face.
Loft is an important aspect when selecting a sand wedge for a greenside bunker shot. This is because most greenside bunkers have high lips, meaning the ball is often a long way below the green level. Most experienced golfers understand hitting a full blooded 5 iron will not produce the desired result.
Loft is also something which can be increased or decreased when using the sand wedge. When setting up for a greenside bunker shot, the club face of a sand wedge can be fanned open to increase loft. This will require the golfer to also open their body to ensure alignment is correct.
Shaft length ultimately determines how fast a golfer swings and how much control they have over the club head. Sand wedges are predominantly used for short approach and sand shots. These shots require a greater amount of control rather than pure speed; this is why the sand wedge is one of the shortest clubs in a golfer's bag.
When a golfer combines these different ingredients, they have a club which glides through sand because of bounce angle, hits the ball high because of loft, and is controllable because of shaft length.
This is the answer to why golfers should use a sand wedge from a greenside bunker when compared to longer clubs with less loft and bounce.
Why Should You Use a Sand Wedge in Greenside Bunker?
There are many skills you need to possess in order to shoot low scores on the golf course. Obviously, you need to have a reliable swing. You don't have to be the longest hitter in the game, but you do need to consistently hit the ball in the proper direction. Also, you need to have a well-rounded short game, and you need to maintain an even temper throughout the day. In addition to all of those skills, you also need to be able to pick the right club for each shot you hit. If you are carrying a full bag of clubs, you have 14 options for every shot – although the putter doesn't make much sense for many of them. The rules of the game don't dictate which clubs are used when, so this choice is entirely up to you. By picking the right club at the right time, you will have a dramatically increased chance at success.
In this article, we are going to discuss one specific club selection decision – the choice you have to make when stepping down into a greenside bunker. Obviously, this is a situation you would like to avoid in the first place, as it is never good news to have to head down into a bunker. Keeping your ball on the grass is the best way to post a good score, so always make strategic decisions based around finding the green part of the course. It is inevitable that you are going to find a bunker from time to time, however, so when that happens, you need to have a logical club selection process in mind.
For most golfers, one club is going to jump to the front of the line when playing a greenside bunker shot. That club is, of course, the sand wedge. It has the word 'sand' right there in the title, making it an obvious pick. With a design that has been created intentionally for your needs in the bunker, the sand wedge is indeed one of your best weapons out of the bunker. But is it the only choice you have? We are going to explore that question and more in the following content.
As you think about your club selection decision for greenside bunker shots, remember that you should always be focused on getting the ball out of the sand first and foremost. While it would be great to hit the ball close to the hole for a tap-in putt, you need to be careful not to get too 'greedy'. If you try to play a miracle shot and don't pull it off, you could find yourself playing from the sand again on your next shot. That would be the worst-case scenario. Even if you don't pull off a great shot, be sure to get the ball back out onto the grass when at all possible. To keep your round on track, you need to avoid a big number after you find the sand – and getting out in one swing will go a long way toward that goal.
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.
Advantages of Using a Sand Wedge
It only makes sense that a club called the 'sand wedge' would be designed to work nicely in greenside bunkers. While these clubs can actually be used in many of non-sand situations, there are most at home in the dirt. By learning the right technique, you can put the power of the sand wedge to work for your game.
- Plenty of bounce. The bounce angle on a wedge (or any iron, for that matter) is the amount of 'bulge' it has on the sole. A club with a high bounce angle will be noticeably rolled on the bottom of the club head, while a low bounce wedge will be relatively flat. For bunker play, you want plenty of bounce because that shape is going to help the club slide through the sand. Wedges with low bounce angles are great for playing from tight fairway lies, but they do not work well in the bunkers. Assuming you are using a traditional, off-the-rack sand wedge, yours should have plenty of bounce to do the job. If you are shopping for a new sand wedge, ask the salesperson at your local golf shop to show you models with plenty of bounce to make sure you aren't making this shot harder than it needs to be.
- Plenty of loft. Most sand wedges feature 55-or-so degrees of loft. This is plenty to help you get the ball over the lip of most bunkers you will encounter, while still giving you enough forward movement on the ball to reach the target. Some players reach for their 60* wedge when in the sand, but using that much loft can be problematic – especially if you lay the face open at address (as you should). Using a wedge which is in the 55* range is likely to give you the best results in most cases. There will be occasional shots which call for more or less loft, but you should stick with your sand wedge most of the time.
- A sharp leading edge. While you need the bounce angle on the bottom of the wedge to help you glide the club through the sand, it is also important to have a strong leading edge in order to cut into the dirt behind the ball. You are trying to swing your sand wedge under the ball rather than into it, and a good leading edge will make that much easier. You will notice a big difference in this regard when using your sand wedge as opposed to something like a nine iron or pitching wedge.
Overall, the sand wedge is a great choice in a greenside bunker because it is simply the right club for the job. As mentioned above, there will be times when you should reach for a different club, and we will address some of those circumstances later in the article. Generally speaking, however, you are going to be able to handle 90% of your greenside bunker shots properly with just this one club.
Playing a Basic Explosion Shot
Now that you know which club is the right one for the job (most of the time), it is necessary to touch on the basics of solid technique in the bunker. After all, it isn't going to do you any good to be holding the right club if you are unable to make the right kind of swing. Only when you can blend excellent technique with the right club for the task will you be able to achieve good results.
It should be said right off the bat that playing an explosion shot from a greenside bunker is unlike anything else you will do on the golf course. Rather than trying to hit the ball directly with the club face, you are actually going to slide the club under the ball in the sand. In the end, it will be the sand itself which forces the ball up and out of the bunker. The shot is called an 'explosion' shot because of the way the sand will blast up into the air as you swing through – tossing a considerable amount of sand toward the target is a great sign that you have executed the swing properly.
Even if you already have a good idea of the basic technique needed to hit an explosion shot, it never hurts to review the topic. Read through the following points for a clear understanding of this important shot.
- Wide and open stance. When setting your feet in the bunker, be sure to take a wide stance with your feet open to the target line. You want to stand with your feet far apart because you need a stable base for the aggressive swing to come. By standing open to the target line, you are going to promote an outside-in swing, which is perfect for an explosion shot. Swinging across the ball will improve your ability to get the shot up into the air quickly. Also, you may put a bit more backspin on the ball when taking this approach, which will help you control the shot after it lands. To make sure you don't lose your footing while making the swing, wiggle your shoes down into the sand by an inch or two.
- Open the club face. This is the step that many amateur golfers get wrong, largely because they are afraid of what will happen if they lay the face open before making a swing. Don't be afraid of this adjustment, as it is critical to your success. By opening up the face, you are going to accomplish a couple things. First, you are going to expose the bounce of the club to the sand, meaning the club will cut through easier when you approach the bottom of the swing. Also, you are going to maximize the effective loft of the club, which will let you toss the ball high into the air. Be sure to open the face before taking your grip, however, or you will negate this adjustment by turning the face back closed prior to digging into the sand.
- Aim for a specific spot behind the ball. When playing a shot from the grass, you likely focus your eyes on the ball throughout the swing. This is a good idea, of course, as it is the ball you are trying to hit at impact. The goal when playing an explosion shot is different, however. In this case, you are trying to hit a spot behind the ball. Prior to starting the swing, focus your eyes on a spot one or two inches behind the ball and watch that spot until you swing through. Keeping your head down and watching this spot will go a long way toward making sure you blast the ball cleanly out of the trap.
- Swing hard. There is no way around this point – you are going to need to swing hard if you are going to splash the ball successfully out of the bunker. The sand is going to offer significant resistance as you swing through the shot, so you need to carry plenty of speed in the downswing. It will feel awkward to swing so hard while you are so close to the target, but that is exactly what you need to do. If possible, find a golf facility near you which offers a practice bunker. By hitting at least a few bunker shots during each practice session, you will get a good feel for how hard you need to swing in order to get out of the trap cleanly.
The explosion shot is one which is seen quite differently by amateur golfers than it is by the pros. Professional golfers generally think of this as one of the easiest shots in the game, as long as they draw a good lie in the sand. On the other hand, many amateur players are terrified of having to go down into a bunker to blast the ball out. Why the difference? Simple – pro golfers practice this shot on a regular basis, while amateurs largely ignore it during practice. If you are willing to put in some time learning how to handle this shot properly, you will find that it is actually one of the easier shots on the course. Commit yourself to some practice time in a bunker and you and your sand wedge could soon become best friends.
Using Other Clubs
As we have already highlighted in this article, your sand wedge is going to be the right choice for most greenside bunker shots. But is it going to be the right pick for every bunker shot you face? No, not necessarily. You are likely to run into situations from time to time which require the use of a different club. The list below highlights some of these possible situations.
- Need to cover a long distance. Not all greenside bunker shots are created equal. Even if you are in a bunker which is technically near the green, you could still have a long distance to cover between your ball and the hole. When that is the case, you may choose to go down to a gap wedge, or even a pitching wedge, to handle the shot. Of course, before you do so, make sure the lip in front of you is low enough to accommodate such a shot. You need to get the ball out of the bunker first and foremost, so don't take the risk of flirting with the lip just to hit the shot farther.
- Hard-packed sand. If you play a round of golf after a heavy rain, you will often find that the bunkers on the course are extremely firm when you step down into them. In fact, under these conditions, the ball will sometimes roll around the trap for a moment rather than settling right into a spot in the sand. When you do face these kinds of conditions, it may be tough to hit the traditional explosion shot – your club won't be able to carve through the sand as usual. To deal with this problem, consider taking a less-lofted club in order to play a chip shot rather than an explosion. You have to make perfect contact in order to pull off this shot, but it may be your only choice.
- Need to clear a steep edge. When your ball comes to rest up close to the edge of a bunker, it might be necessary to use your lob wedge to get out cleanly. In this case, it will be about nothing other than maximizing loft on the shot. Not only do you need to hit this shot high, but you need get it up in the air quickly – which is why the lob wedge is the right tool for the job. You aren't going to be able to hit the ball very far when you opt for this plan, but it will allow you to at least get out and back on the grass.
- Playing from the downslope in the back of the bunker. One of the worst lies you can draw in the bunker is when your ball comes to rest on the downslope in the back of the trap. In this case, you are going to want to again maximize loft to make it easier to get out – so you will reach for the lob wedge once again. The downslope is going to effectively take loft away from your shot, so anything you can do to regain a bit of height is a step you should take.
Ideally, you will be able to use your sand wedge on the large majority of your bunker shots. It is the club which is best suited for the job, so it is the one you want to have in your hands. That isn't always going to be possible, however, so you do need to be able to adapt when necessary. By knowing when to take more loft and when to move down into a pitching wedge or gap wedge, you can put the right club in your hands for every bunker shot you play.
Beyond the club you use and the swing you make, there are a few other quick points which should be made regarding the challenge of playing a greenside bunker shot. Once you review the tips below, you should have a good understanding of this topic all the way around.
- Read the lie. You always need to pay close attention to the lie you have drawn in the bunker when playing from a greenside trap. If the ball is sitting on top of the sand, you will be free to play just about any kind of shot you like. However, if the ball is sitting down deep, you may just need to chop it out as safely as possible – even if that means aiming away from the hole. The lie of the ball dictates everything you can do in this game, and that certainly applies when you are in a bunker.
- Treat bunkers with respect. Under the rules of golf, sand bunkers are identified as a hazard. There is a good reason for this identification – you don't want to knock your ball into a sand trap. Many golfers take these hazards for granted, not giving them the same kind of respect that they give to a water hazard or an out of bounds marker. Sure, you won't have a penalty stroke added to your score when you find a bunker, but you can still lose shots when all is said and done. Even if you master the technique needed to hit an explosion shot, the best plan is still to stay out of them altogether.
- Play to the low side. As you plan your bunker shot, always keep the upcoming putt in the back of your mind. Obviously, you would like to be putting from close range when the bunker shot is complete – but you would also like to be putting uphill. Since it is relatively easy to hit your target line out of the sand, favor the low side to set yourself up for an aggressive uphill putt.
Using your sand wedge to play from a greenside bunker is a smart, and somewhat obvious, choice. Most of the bunker shots you face will be handled easily through the use of your sand wedge, as long as you make a good swing. Spend time practicing this important shot and you will be able to step into the trap with confidence next time your ball ducks into a bunker. Good luck!