To some golfers, the only place more frightening than a greenside bunker is its sibling, the fairway bunker. Learn to use your hybrid clubs in these hazards and you may come to relish the opportunity.
When you find a fairway bunker, it's tempting to grab a sand wedge or other lofted club and just get the ball out. But this defeatist tactic costs you precious yards, and possibly a chance to hit the green. If you're afraid to hit a full iron shot from the sand, the hybrid may prove less intimidating.
First things first. Any time you're in a fairway bunker, study the height of the lip you must carry relative to your distance from it. Visualize the ball's flight matching your hybrid's loft angle -- 22°, for instance. If you're sure that a solid shot will clear the lip, proceed as follows:
- Place the ball in the middle of your stance and grip down about ½” on the club. This will shorten the club's length, making it easier to control and reducing the risk of a fat shot.
- Make sure your feet are planted firmly, but don't dig into the sand as you would in a greenside bunker. This causes your swing to bottom out behind the ball – a big no-no in a fairway bunker.
- Make a sweeping swing to nip the ball off the surface, standing tall throughout the swing to prevent hitting behind it.
The hybrid's rounded sole and large, confidence-boosting head make it ideal for long sand shots. Give it a try and your days of pitching out sideways – and giving up valuable strokes – may be over.
Hybrids Can Take Fear Out of Fairway Bunker Shots
A bunker is a scary place for the average amateur golfer. Most golfers hate to see their ball come to rest in the sand, as getting out of the trap and back onto the course can seem like a magic trick. Of course, playing well out of the bunker is not quite as difficult as it first appears, as long as you have the right technique on your side. This is true when talking about greenside bunkers, and it is true when speaking of fairway bunkers as well. You would always prefer to be in the fairway as opposed to a bunker, but preparation and solid technique can take the fear factor out of the average fairway bunker shot.
In this article, we are going to discuss how the proper use of your hybrid clubs can help you to tackle some of the fairway bunker shots you are likely to face. You might not immediately think of your hybrid clubs as a good option for a fairway bunker, but they are perfect for the job in the right situation. It should be noted right from the start, however, that a hybrid club is not going to be the weapon of choice for every fairway bunker situation. Club selection is important in this scenario, just as it is important around the rest of the course. As part of the discussion below, we will lay out a process for how you can make the right club selection each time you find a fairway trap.
It is important to be prepared for the challenge you will face in a fairway bunker, as all players will find them from time to time. Even if you are accurate off the tee with your driver, you are still going to make a mistake occasionally. Golf is a hard game, and no one is perfect with any aspect of their performance. By preparing yourself for as many situations as possible, you will be better equipped to get your ball around the course successfully round after round. One of the biggest differences between professional golfers and amateur players is the level of preparation that pros bring with them to the course. Having practiced nearly every shot they could face, pros are rarely caught off guard during a round. Work on building your game in the same way and you will almost certainly play better in the near future.
One of the challenges you will likely face in working on your fairway bunker game is finding somewhere to practice this shot. While a lot of golf courses have a practice bunker in their short game area, few have a bunker that you can use to hit full shots down the range. Call around to the courses in your local area to determine if any have a bunker you can use for full shots. When you find one, do your best to make it to that facility from time to time for a practice session. You might not be able to work on this skill during each trip to the range, but practicing it on occasion is going to help you develop your technique.
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.
Most likely, you are currently playing your fairway bunker shots with a variety of your irons. When you only have a short distance to the green, you may be able to use a nine iron or pitching wedge, for example. Even once you have learned to use hybrids from the sand, your approach on those shorter shots really isn't going to change – you can use short irons from the sand successfully, given some practice and good technique. It is when you would normally reach for a long iron that you are now going to think about using a hybrid to play the shot. These long fairway bunker shots are among some of the most difficult in the game, which is why it is exciting to try something new. If you can achieve better results by using hybrids rather than long irons, saving strokes will be a real possibility.
So, what are the advantages of playing long fairway bunker shots with hybrids rather than long irons? The points below highlight the biggest reasons to make this change.
- Wider sole design. The biggest problem that you are likely to encounter when playing a long iron from a fairway bunker is the leading edge of the iron digging into the sand. If you make contact with the sand even a fraction of an inch behind the ball, the club will dig in and your shot will be sure to come up short. It is extremely difficult to make clean contact time after time in a fairway bunker when swinging a long iron – even the best players in the world have trouble with this shot. By switching to a hybrid, you are going to add some forgiveness to the shot because you will have a wider sole plate to work with. The wider bottom of a hybrid will be more likely to slide across the top of the sand, correcting for your mistake and still leaving you with a good shot. This design feature is not going to fix all of your mistakes, of course, but it can be a big step in the right direction.
- Lower center of gravity. One of your biggest jobs on a fairway bunker shot is to get the ball up in the air. You are going to have to clear some sort of lip on your way out of the bunker, so the ball needs to get up off the ground relatively quickly. Using a hybrid club will make that task easier, as the center of gravity in a hybrid will be lower than it is in a traditional long iron. With a low COG on your side, you simply need to make solid contact and the ball should quickly climb into the sky. Just as it is easier to hit hybrids high from the fairway, it is also easier to hit them up into the air when you need to escape a fairway bunker.
- More forgiveness from heel to toe. Nobody strikes the ball perfectly clean each time they swing the club, so having as much forgiveness on your side as possible is always a good thing. If you use a long iron to hit this kind of shot, missing the ball off the toe or the heel even slightly is going to be a big problem. However, with a hybrid, you can afford to miss slightly at impact while still creating a useful shot. It is always best to hit the ball right in the middle of the face, of course, but your misses are going to be more playable with a hybrid as compared to a long iron.
Overall, using a hybrid club is just going to make fairway bunker shots easier. Considering the fact that golf is one of the hardest games in the world, anything you can do to make it a bit easier should always be welcomed. Learn how to play hybrid clubs from fairway bunkers and you will find that this difficult shot is not quite as scary as it was when played with a long iron.
Picking the Right Opportunity
As mentioned earlier, you can't use a hybrid club each and every time you find your ball in a fairway bunker. Just as with any other shot you face on the course, you need to think through a number of factors before you pick your club for this shot. The key points to consider before picking your fairway bunker club are listed below.
- An appropriate yardage. As you might expect, the first thing you need to check on is the yardage of the shot at hand. If you are facing a shot of only 120 yards, for instance, and you hit your hybrid club around 170 yards, you will need to use one of your regular irons for the shot. While it is true that you may lose a little bit of distance when playing from a fairway bunker, that distance loss is not going to be dramatic (unless you miss-hit the shot). Once you find that you have a reasonable distance to the target for the use of a hybrid club, you can go ahead with the process of checking on other relevant factors.
- A relatively low lip. You should not be trying to hit a hybrid club out of a bunker if you need to clear a steep edge with the shot. Even a lofted hybrid is not going to come out extremely high, and you can't afford to take any chances on this point. Hitting the lip of the bunker will usually cause the ball to come right back to you, meaning you will have spent a shot to get nowhere at all. Even if you aren't able to hit your target, the biggest goal you should have on any fairway bunker shot is just to get back out onto the grass. As long as you get out of the bunker with your first shot, you should be able to finish the hole without too much damage on the score card. So, with that in mind, always error on the side of caution with regard to your club selection. If you have a low lip, go ahead with the idea of using a hybrid. Otherwise, use a lofted club and be sure to get out safely.
- A good lie. Without a good lie, you simply have no chance to produce a quality shot with a hybrid club from a fairway bunker. Of course, it is easy to draw a poor lie in the bunker based on conditions and the path your ball took as it entered, so this is one of the first points you should check on when planning your shot. A good lie is one where the ball is sitting cleanly on top of the sand. If your ball is sitting down in the sand, or if you have a small pile of sand behind your ball, it will be better to choose a short iron and just play to get the ball back on the grass. In addition to finding a clean lie, you also need to find a relatively flat lie. Almost all bunkers are sloped around the edges, and trying to play a hybrid shot from a sloped lie is a game you aren't going to win. Using the hybrid for a full shot from a fairway bunker is usually only possible if you find your ball in the flat middle section of the sand.
As you can see, it won't be possible to use a hybrid club each time your tee shot finds a fairway bunker. You have to draw a good lie, you have to have the right yardage, and you need to see a relatively low lip between your ball and the target. Only when all of these conditions are present should you go ahead with the idea of using your hybrid to tackle this tough shot.
There is one other point that needs to be mentioned quickly as part of this section. When assessing the shot in front of you, it is important to look up toward the target while developing a game plan. You need to check off the items on the list above, of course, but you also need to be sure that there is a reasonable target in the distance for you to attempt this shot. Remember, you are never going to be as consistent or as accurate from a fairway bunker as you would be from the grass, so you should error on the side of conservative decision making.
As an example, imagine that you find yourself in a fairway bunker on a long par four. Your lie is good, the lip is very low, and you have a great yardage to the green. You should go ahead and hit the hybrid, right? Not necessary. If there is a hazard guarding the green, such as a pond that runs along the front of the putting surface, you will need to think twice. A perfect shot should be safe, but any degree of miss-hit is going to put you in the water. In this case, it might be best to lay up and try to make a par the 'old-fashioned way'. Hybrid clubs can be a great help from fairway bunkers, but they don't make you invincible – it is still essential to make smart, patient decisions.
Making the Swing
When you do determine that a hybrid club is the right choice for the job from a fairway bunker, it will then be time to actually make a swing. While you are certainly comfortable swinging your hybrid clubs on the grass, you need to make some minor adjustments when you step down into a sand trap. You don't have to change your entire technique, of course, but these minor adjustments are critical if you hope to achieve good results.
First, you are going to want to stand with your feet slightly farther apart at address. It can be difficult to get great footing while in a bunker, so a wider stance is helpful as it adds to the stability of your base. As you are setting your feet, be sure to wiggle them into the sand by an inch or two to really secure your position. This is the same thing you would do when preparing to hit a greenside bunker shot. However, in a fairway bunker, you are going to keep your feet square to the target line, rather than opening them to the left as you do around the greens.
Now that you have settled your feet into the sand, you have to adjust for the fact that you are set into the bunker by an inch or two. This adjustment is made simply by choking down on the grip of the club. Choking down slightly is going to make the club effectively shorter, which is necessary to counteract the 'sunken' nature of your stance. If you were to use the entire length of the club for this swing, it is extremely likely that you would hit the ball fat. This is a common amateur mistake, and the reason that so many players struggle to get long shots out of the sand at all. Remember to choke down slightly and this shot will suddenly become much easier.
With those two adjustments made, you will be ready to hit the shot. During the swing, the only thing you want to change is the aggressiveness of your action. If you swing extra-hard while in the bunker, you are likely to lose your footing at some point – possibly during the transition from backswing to downswing. You don't have to swing soft when hitting this kind of shot, but you don't want to swing particularly hard, either. A comfortable, medium-effort swing is in order from a fairway bunker. If you can apply just the right amount of effort, while swinging through with confidence to a full finish, you should be able to strike the ball cleanly more often than not.
Avoiding Fairway Traps
You are going to find your way into a fairway bunker from time to time, so it is essential that you are able to get out quickly and easily when that occurs. However, it is always best to avoid these traps, and instead place your ball in the middle of the fairway for an easy approach. In addition to making quality swings, making good decisions from the tee is a big part of keeping your ball on the grass. The following tips should help you make smart tee shot decisions during your next round.
- Club down when accuracy is required. There are plenty of holes which feature a wide open design and offer you the chance to 'let it rip'. However, there are also plenty of holes on the average golf course which demand accuracy above all else. When faced with a narrow fairway guarded by several bunkers, consider taking less club simply to keep the ball in play. Go down to your three wood from the driver, or even hit a hybrid or long iron if the hole is short enough for such a strategy.
- The rough is not always a bad thing. When playing a course that only has moderate rough – which is most courses, these days – you don't necessarily have to hit the fairway to leave yourself with a reasonable approach to the green. If one side of the fairway is guarded by deep bunkers, for instance, aim down the other side and be okay with the potential of your ball drifting into the rough. Unless the rough is deep, you should still be able to hit an approach into the green with far less trouble than you would have had in one of those bunkers.
- Blast away over the traps. Clubbing down for control is often a good strategy, but so too is swinging away with your driver when you think it's possible to carry all of the sand. If the par four or par five in front of you has bunkers at a medium length, and you are a relatively long hitter, go ahead and blast away. As long as you carry the sand successfully, you should find a decent approach – even if you do find the rough.
There are many reasons to carry hybrid clubs in your bag, and the ability to use them from the fairway bunker is just another point to add to the list. As long as you use your hybrid at the right time, and you practice these shots before you play, it is possible to create excellent shots from the sand using a hybrid club. Good luck!