In this golf tip we are going to go through a few check points for your bunker play in order to help you hit better shots that escape from the sand on your first attempt, rather than your second, third or even fourth.
If you are having problems leaving your shots in the bunker, let us look at the correct set up to play effective bunker shots from. Here you are going to look at playing a splash shot from a green side bunker with plenty of soft sand and a good lie. You want to create height with a splash shot from a bunker so the first thing that you need to do is select your sand iron to play the shot with as this has the most loft, or club face angle and it is this that will help to generate the upward trajectory needed for the ball to climb above the lip.
We are going to add a little more loft, or angle to the club face to help achieve a high trajectory so rotate the handle of the club to the right so that the name on your grip, or the grip guide, is now off centre to the right. Place your hands on to the handle with a good grip. It is really important that you rotate the handle and then place your hands on to the club, as this will create more loft. If you hold and then turn your hands and the club, when you hit the shot your hands and the club face will rotate back to their start position rather than the rotated position and effectively you will have added no more loft to the club face.
After you have rotated the handle of the club to the right and then placed your hands on the club, now align the club face so that it is aiming at your intended target. Because you have rotated the club face to the right to increase the loft, you will need to turn your feet more to the left to aim the club face at the target. Once the club face is aiming at the target now take your stance, feet shoulder width apart and wriggle your feet into the sand. Wriggling your feet into the sand is important for several reasons. Initially, it will help you to gain a solid base to play your shot from. It will also help to lower you into the surface and help you to strike the sand rather than the ball during the shot, which is what you want to do to play a successful shot that escapes the bunker. Finally, it also helps you get a feel for the type of sand that you are playing from, whether it is hard or soft and therefore helps you to judge the type of shot to play.
Here we are going to play a standard splash shot from soft sand and a good lie. Play the ball in the centre of your stance and keep your weight even. Hold down the handle slightly as this will give you more control over the club head. Now swing the club head away from the ball and hinge your wrist to create a 90 degree angle between your left arm and the club shaft. The action for this shot is very different to your usual golf swing so you need to hinge your wrist earlier than usual on your backswing in order to create club head height that will allow you to follow the correct angle of attack with the club head back towards the ball. You do not need a full swing for this shot so swing back half way and then swing down towards the ball, aiming to hit the sand two inches before the ball so that the club head slides through the sand and under the ball, pushing the sand upwards and forwards and as a result moving the ball also upwards and forwards. Make sure you allow the club head to travel under the ball and then out of the sand so that it finishes in a high follow through position, mirroring the position that the club head achieved on your backswing.
If you are playing your bunker shots currently and the ball is getting left in the bunker, first of all listen to the shot when you play it. Notice whether you are striking the sand or the ball - do you hear a soft noise with no ball contact or is it more of a click with the club connecting with the ball. If you are connecting with the top of the ball rather than the sand, then the ball will fly very low and fast into the face of the bunker and remain in it. If this is the case, work on becoming more accurate at striking the sand two inches before the ball.
A great drill to practice this would be to draw a line in the sand of the practice bunker, using the grip end of the club and then push the grip end of the club into the sand two inches to the left of the line at intervals along it. Now work on the set up and swing we just discussed and practice striking the line with the club head and taking a divot of sand so that the circle you created when you pushed the grip end into the sand disappears. Doing this will allow you to observe whether the club is entering the sand at the correct point. This is also a useful drill if you are taking too much sand before the ball, as if you are doing this the club head will not have enough speed when it moves through the sand resulting in the ball not travelling forward enough to clear the bunker lip and escape from the sand.
Check your follow through position as if you hit the sand and decelerate or stop the speed of the club head, again the ball will not travel forward enough to escape the bunker. Check that the club head is finishing higher than the top of the flag on your follow through and mirroring the position it achieved on your backswing. When you practice the hitting the line drill, practice hitting at a speed that allows the sand to land on the green. This will ensure that you are delivering an appropriate club head speed into the sand to get the ball over the lip of the bunker and on to the green.
Work hard on the striking the line drill to improve your accuracy on entering the sand and the speed of this and you should find that the number of bunker shots that now escape from the sand increases and improves your score.