The greenside bunker shot is the most unpredictable situation golfers face during a normal round.
With so many variables to account for – like sand texture, the ball's lie and the height of the bunker's lip – it's no wonder most players dread these gritty pits.
While bunkers create dozens of different challenges, the best sand players have mastered a fundamental method for escaping unscathed. Here's the basic technique for a standard shot from a reasonable lie (using a sand wedge:)
1. Address the ball with your stance open to the target line by about 30 degrees.
2. Ball placement should be forward of center, but not quite off the left heel.
3. Shuffle both feet in place until you've sunk an inch or two into the sand.
4. Make sure the clubface is square or slightly open to the target.
5. Pick out a spot approximately two inches behind the ball; this is where the club should enter the sand.
6. Swing along the line of your stance, making sure to accelerate into and through the sand.
Shorter shots call for a more open stance and clubface to get the ball up quickly. On very long bunker shots, considering using a club with less loft, like a pitching wedge.
Top Tips to Make Bunker Shots Easier
Do you live in fear of bunker shots when playing a round of golf? Don't worry – you aren't alone. Many golfers are afraid to heading down into the sand, as they are not confident in their ability to carve the ball out in a single swing. However, those fears can quickly be eliminated with a little bit of instruction on the proper way to play shots from the sand. Believe it or not, bunker shots – especially greenside bunker shots – are some of the easiest shots you will face all day long. Once you know how this shot works you will be able to loft your ball up out of the trap time after time with no trouble at all.
You stand to save a surprising amount of shots off of your average score when you learn how to play from the bunker effectively. Why is that? Because a mistake in a bunker can often turn into a huge problem on the scorecard. For example, if you get down in a bunker and don't really know how to get out, you can easily spend two or three shots trying to get back to the grass. Suddenly, what should have been a bogey at worst has turned into a double, triple, or more, and your score for the day can quickly get out of control. Obviously you never want to be in a bunker, but having the ability to minimize the damage when you do find yourself in the sand is a key component of becoming a better player.
For proof as to how easy and stress-free the sand game can be, you don't need to look any farther than the PGA Tour. Do you see players panic at the professional level when they see their ball land in the sand? Of course not. In fact, they are often happy to find the sand as opposed to the deep rough around the green. Most of the time, a greenside bunker shot played by a touring professional will be splashed out to within short range of the hole – and they will even make these shots from time to time. You might not ever reach the level of proficiency that is possessed by a top pro from the bunker, but you can look to their example when working on your own performance in this area.
Before getting into tips on how you can make your bunker shots as easy as possible, we should quickly highlight the importance of the lie in this equation. The lie of your ball always has a lot to do with the shots you can hit, whether you are down in the sand or anywhere else around the course. A good lie will make it possible to do many different things, while a poor lie will leave you just hoping to move the ball in the correct direction. In the sand, a good lie is one where the ball is sitting up on top of the sand cleanly. You don't want to see your ball sitting down deep, because that type of lie is going to make it nearly impossible to get spin on the ball – and you might not be able to get out at all with your first swing. Before doing anything else in a bunker, check your lie and then proceed accordingly.
Using Plenty of Loft
The first tip you should take with you into the bunkers of your local course is to use plenty of loft on all of your greenside $bunker shots. Many amateurs make the mistake of using something like a pitching wedge or gap wedge on a bunker shot, but those clubs just aren't going to get it done under most circumstances. Instead, reach for a wedge with at least 55 degrees of loft, if not more. You want to make sure you get the ball out of the sand first and foremost, and plenty of loft is going to help you do just that. Even if the bunker doesn't have a high lip that you have to get over, sticking with a high lofted club in nearly every case is going to be your best bet.
By using a high lofted wedge to hit your bunker shots , you are going to have a number of advantages working on your side. First, these kinds of clubs are designed with sand in mind, meaning they can cut through the sand with relative easy compared to some of the other clubs in your bag. The bounce angle on the bottom of your wedge will help you to move the club through the sand without digging too deeply at the bottom of the swing. As long as you play the shot with the face opened up, as you should, the club should glide through the sand nicely as the ball is sent up into the air.
Where many golfers get into trouble is when they see that they are facing a longer greenside bunker shot so they decide to use less loft in order to get across the green to the hole. While that is a strategy that can work from time to time, it is usually not the right way to go. Changing clubs alters the way the club is going to interact with the sand, meaning you will have a harder time catching the ball properly at impact. Stick with the same lofted club for each greenside bunker shot and use different swing speeds and amounts of spin in order to control the overall distance of the shot.
It as mentioned quickly above, but we need to highlight again here the importance of opening up the face of your wedge at address. Laying the face open prior to starting your swing accomplishes a couple of goals, both of which are important in the quest to hit good bunker shots. First, opening the face adds even more loft of the club, further improving your chances of blasting the ball safely out of the sand. Even in a deep bunker, you should be able to clear the lip and get up to the green when you hit the shot with an open face. Also, opening the face exposes the bounce of the club to the sand, which is exactly what you want to do. If you were to keep the face of the wedge square or even closed at address, you would run the risk of digging the leading edge into the dirt as soon as the club contacted the sand. That would be a negative outcome to be sure, as the ball would most likely not get out of the bunker in that case.
Knowing that you need to use plenty of loft in order to hit good bunker shots, make sure you have the right wedges in your bag to make your way around the course successfully. If you only have two wedges in your bag currently, you may want to think about adding at least one more to your collection in order to have the options you need. Most professional golfers carry at least three, if not four, wedges during the average round, and you should follow that lead. If the choice comes down to either adding an extra wedge or a long iron/hybrid club, you should almost always side with the added wedge. The short game is crucial to your success on the course, and having the clubs you need to hit good short shots is critical.
Don't Hit the Ball
You probably never thought you would read a golf instruction article that was telling you to intentionally miss the ball, but that is exactly what you are trying to do when playing from a greenside bunker . Have you ever wondered how pro golfers are able to make such a big swing from the sand without hitting the ball way over the green? It's because they aren't actually hitting the ball at impact. Instead, they are hitting the sand behind and beneath the ball, and it is that sand which is actually moving the ball up onto the green. This might seem like a complicated way to play a shot, but it is actually the easiest option when you are down in a bunker .
As you stand over a bunker shot, you should be looking at a spot roughly two or three inches behind the ball as your entry point into the sand. If you can put the clubhead into the sand at that point, and carry plenty of speed while you do it, the ball should come up nicely into the air and hopefully onto the green. There is no room for hesitation with this shot, however, as decelerating as you get down toward the ball will cause you to come up short time after time. It might not feel like you should need such a big swing from right next to the green, but you do – commit to making a big swing on your way to sticking the club into the sand and everything should work out just right.
Of course, trying to hit a golf shot where you don't actually hit the ball is a pretty foreign concept for players who haven't previously used this technique in the bunker, so practice is going to be an important part of this equation as well. If your local course has a practice bunker that is available for you to use, make sure to take advantage of it during each of your practice session. Even hitting just a handful of bunker shots each time you go to the range to practice will go a long way toward making you a better overall player in the long run. You may only hit one or two bunker shots per round on average (depending on the course you play), so getting some work in during practice is essential to improve this part of your game.
To successfully 'miss' the ball when hitting a bunker shot, you are going to need to make sure there is enough sand under the ball to pull the shot off properly. Most bunkers have plenty of sand to allow for a good explosion shot, but you might find the occasional bunker that is relatively bare in the bottom. When that happens, you aren't going to be able to slide the club under the ball, because there simply won't be enough sand to do so. In that case, you are going to have to change tactics completely. Instead of blasting the ball out toward the target, you will have to play a 'chipping style' shot where you do make contact with the ball at impact. This is a more difficult shot to play, but it is your only real choice when trying to get out of a thin bunker.
With time and practice, you should become rather comfortable with this method of hitting bunker shots. Once you see that the ball is going to come out of the sand nicely as long as you slide the club under it, you will begin to trust in the shot and you will expect good results. Also, you should be able to learn how the ball is going to spin on these kinds of shots in most cases, allowing you to better predict where it is going to stop when it does land on the green. Spin out of a bunker is mostly about feel, so hit as many practice bunker shots as you can in order to develop your feel properly in this area.
Build a Great Stance
There is no substitute for a great stance, no matter what kind of shot you are trying to hit. A good address position is important on the tee, it is important in the fairway, it is important on the greens, and it is certainly important in the bunkers . If you can put everything in the right position prior to starting your swing, you will instantly make the game significantly easier to play. With regard to greenside bunker shots specifically, there are a few things you can do with your stance to promote success. Hit on the points below in your address position and you will be on the right track.
- Ball near the middle of your stance. For most typically bunker shots from around the green, you are going to want to play the ball near the middle of your stance. If you move the ball too far forward, you will catch too much sand before the ball and the shot may not get out of the bunker at all. Move the ball too far back, on the other hand, and the shot will come out low and you will run the risk of hitting too much of the ball at impact. By putting the ball comfortably in the center, you can slide the club under the ball smoothly without having to worry about getting too much or too little of the sand on the way through. You may want to manipulate this positioning slightly depending on your lie and the shot you want to hit, but the ball should always be relatively close to the middle of your stance.
- Knees flexed at address. You need to make sure that your knees are bent comfortably at address because you need to get down low enough to slide the club under the ball properly. If you stand in the sand with straight legs, your upper body will then be too high and you might not actually get under the ball like you need to. When you walk down into the bunker to take your stance, wiggle your feet into the sand to gain some traction and then bend your knees significantly until you feel like you are low enough to hit the shot properly.
- Clubface open and clubhead hovering. We already discussed the importance of opening the clubface at address, so be sure to hit on that point. Also, in addition to having the clubface open at address, you also need to make sure to hover the clubhead above the sand. This is a point that has to do strictly with the rules of the game. It is against the rules, and a penalty, to touch the sand with your club prior to actually making the swing. So, in other words, you can't ground the club behind the ball before hitting the shot. Hover the clubhead in the air over the sand while addressing the ball, and only touch the sand when you swinging through the ball.
- Wide stance. You want to be standing with your feet more than shoulder width apart when preparing to hit a bunker shot . Why? It's all about balance. You are going to be making a big swing from the bunker, and you need to be perfectly balanced throughout that swing in order to put the club into the sand at the correct point. If you stand with your feet closer together, it is likely that you will lose your balance and you will hit the shot either thin or fat as a result. Spread your feet out, dig them into the sand, and keep your center of gravity in exactly the same spot throughout the backswing and downswing.
If you can hit on all of the points in the list above when you get ready to hit a bunker shot, you will be in great shape. It doesn't take any talent to set up to the ball properly before you hit a shot (in the bunker or anywhere else), so there is never any excuse to take a poor stance. By spending just a bit of time during practice working on your bunker shot stance and technique, you will quickly become a much improved sand player.
There is nothing like confidence to help you play better golf. Sure, it is important to have good technique, and we have spent most of the time in this article talking about how you create good technique within your swing. However, there is more to golf than just technical positions. If you only think of your game as a collection of technical checkpoints that you need to hit, you will never live up to your potential on the course. There is a lot of feel, touch, creativity, and more in golf, and none of that has anything to do with your technique.
The 'intangibles' in golf often come down to confidence. The players who believe they are capable of pulling off certain shots are usually the ones who do so. When you step down into a bunker , you can't afford to have any doubts about your ability to play the shot in front of you. In fact, you have to have total confidence that you are not only going to get the ball out of the bunker, but you are going to put it close to the hole for an easy putt. This kind of confidence is extremely valuable because it can carry you through some tough spots and nervous situations. Even if you are facing a difficult bunker shot in a tournament or match at your club, you can lean on your confidence to help you pull through and hit the shot necessary to make a great save.
Where do you find this confidence? During practice, of course. You can't make confidence up out of thin air, although plenty of golfers have tried over the years. Instead, you have to earn your confidence through time spent practicing your technique. After working on your technique consistently for a period of time, you will notice that you naturally have more confidence in your ability to play the bunker shots that you used to fear.
Bunker shots are part of the game of golf, and that isn't going to change anytime soon. What can change, however, is the way you feel about them. With a little knowledge and plenty of practice, you can easily turn sand shots from a weakness into a strength within your own game. Good luck!