With this golf tip we are going to look at how to handle varying sand conditions when you are out playing on the course, because how you approach your sand shot and the type of shot you choose will have a massive influence on how successful the end result is, or not.
To play a bunker shot, one of the first things that you do when you are preparing to play, is wriggle your feet into the sand. This helps you create a firm base for you to play your shot from, but it also gives you a chance to feel the surface below you as you are lowering your feet into the sand. If, when you wriggle your feet in you notice you are sinking and that there is very little resistance from the sand to the movement of your feet, then you are going to approach this shot as exactly that, a shot where the club will experience very little resistance and where it will slide through the sand very easily as you play the shot.
However, if you notice resistance in the sand when you wriggle your feet into it and you notice that you are not really dropping down into the surface, then you know there is either very little sand in the bunker or that the sand is very hard and compacted. You can also experience this when it has been raining and the bunker sand has become sticky or more like mud. With this shot you need to take into account that the club head is going to experience resistance from the surface as you play. Take the opportunity that you have when wriggling your feet into the bunker, to learn about the surface and sand conditions. Are there soft conditions which will require one approach or are conditions firmer, which will require a different type of swing when playing the shot?
Let us look at playing from sand conditions which are soft initially. With soft sand conditions you are going to sink into the surface relatively easily when you wriggle your feet in the sand, so the club head will face little resistance from the surface and it will be easy to get the club head through the sand. We need to remember this when we swing the club away from the ball on the backswing, because the angle that you move the club head back at is going to influence the angle that the club head strikes down into the sand. If you are playing into sand with very little resistance you need a gentle, shallow angle for the club head to swing back towards the sand at. If the angle is too vertical, or steep, the club head will move into the sand and dig in downwards, getting stuck in the sand as there is no resistance to meet this club head movement. This will produce a shot where you take a lot of sand but the ball does not move forwards enough to get out of the bunker. For soft sand conditions, allow the club head to swing around you, to get behind you in a low shoulder height position so that you can approach the sand at a lower more gentle angle which will allow you to take a shallower 'slither' of sand and deliver more energy to move the ball forwards.
To play a soft sand shot well, take your stance up, wriggle your feet into the surface to check the resistance, play the ball in the centre of your stance and keep your weight even between your left and right foot. We need the club head to help us get through the sand so open the face, turn the club face to the right of the target. This is going to create height for the shot as you can see you now have more club face angle or loft but more importantly you can now use the bounce of the club head to help rebound the head up from the sand so it doesn’t get stuck in. Aim your feet to the left until the club face now points towards the target. Hold lower down on the handle for more control and as you swing back hinge your wrists – create a 90 degree angle between your left arm and the club shaft.
Before you play, place an alignment pole or club on the ground to the right of you, to show you the line you are standing on. As you swing away from the ball, hinging your wrist to the 90 degree position, allow the club head to move around your right side and over the alignment pole or club you have placed on the floor, to a shoulder high position. As you swing back towards the ball, strike the sand two inches before the ball allowing the club head to slide under the ball as it pushes the sand forwards. Work on turning your torso to the left of the target so you finish the shot with your belly button facing the target, your weight more on your left foot with your right heel up from the sand and the club head above the target.
When conditions are firmer and the club head is going to face a lot of resistance from the sand, we need the opposite to a soft sand shot. We need a much higher, more vertical club head position to help the club head into the surface. If the club head approaches this surface from a low angle in hard conditions, it will bounce off it and you will end up striking the top of the ball and firing the ball low into the bunker face.
To play this shot we need to help force the club head into the sand. Set up with feet shoulder width apart but this time place more weight on your left foot. This will help you to create a steeper angle for the club head to travel down back to the sand. Also move the ball towards your left foot to encourage you to strike the sand two inches before the ball again. Hinge your wrists as before but this time keep the club head forward of the alignment pole/club on the floor. This will now create a higher and steeper angle for the club head to attack back down and will help the club head to dig into the sand. The sand will force the club head to rebound back up so do not open the club face with this shot, you want the sharp edge of the club face (the leading edge) to cut into the sand, so play the shot with a square or usual club face position. This shot has much more of an arms action, a chopping action, so swing back down towards the sand aggressively. Do not worry about your follow through, just allow the club to move where it wants to go once you have struck down into the sand.
Using these two different approaches will really help to improve your bunker play and give you much more control when conditions vary.