Hitting a shot into a bunker is bad enough. It’s doubly frustrating when you find yourself in a position from which it’s impossible to advance the ball toward the target. It’s important to know how to recognize these situations in order to minimize the damage.“Taking your medicine,” as they say, is never fun. But it can be a huge stroke saver at day’s end, preventing you from racking up those big, score-wrecking numbers. It’s possible to spend two, three or more strokes in a bunker if you get greedy and try to do too much when faced with a tough situation.
Here are some prime examples of positions where your best play is toward the nearest safe spot – often sideways, sometimes backward -- rather than the target itself. Remember, the primary goal is escaping the sand:
- Your ball is close to a very high lip: This happens in both fairway and greenside bunkers. If you’re uncertain whether you can get the ball up quickly enough to carry over the lip, your best bet is to avoid it altogether. Look for a lower edge, with safety lying on the other side, and play in that direction.
- You’ve got a downhill stance and a long carry: Playing downhill produces a lower shot, so if there’s a significant stretch of sand to cover between you and the flag, consider a shorter alternate route.
- The landing area is extremely narrow from front to back: Let’s say you’re in a greenside bunker with a good lie and a low lip in front of you. But there’s very little room to stop the ball once it hits the green, which could be running downhill, away from you, and be very firm and fast. Rather than trying the hero shot, find a wider spot and aim there. Who knows, you might just hole a long putt.
You’ve found a bad lie, such as a “fried egg”: A ball that’s buried or sitting in the middle of its own crater (a “fried egg”) can be tough to extract and even harder to stop. You’ll need plenty of room beyond the bunker, so find a route that provides space for the ball to run out.