The standard sand wedge features 56° of loft, plenty to lift the ball up and out of most bunkers. So why – and when – should you open the face to add even more loft?
Extra loft, provided by rotating the clubface right of the target, is most needed on:
When opening the face of your wedge, be sure to also open your stance (feet left of target); otherwise, your shot will fly to the right.
Of course, not every bunker shot should be played this way. Anytime you've got at least 40 feet to the pin and no large lip to carry, keep the face square to ensure enough distance. The ball will roll farther, too.
How and When to Open the Sand Wedge on Bunker Shots
Are you afraid of bunker shots? If the answer is yes, don't worry – many amateur golfers are in the same boat. Bunker shots can certainly be intimidating, especially if you don't understand the proper technique for dealing with them successfully. There is good news, however. If you take the time to learn how to deal with bunker shots – and then you spend some time practicing what you have learned – you can quickly begin to splash the ball closer to the hole than ever before. In fact, it might not take long until you start to see bunker shots as one of the easier parts of the game.
In the content below, we are going to tackle a seemingly simple question – how and when should you open the face of your sand wedge when playing a bunker shot? While this sounds like a straightforward question, it actually is a bit more complex than it appears (as is the case with pretty much everything in the game of golf). Knowing when and how to lay the face open in the bunker is going to play a large role in your success from the sand. Playing bunker shots with an open face is often, but not always, the best path to hitting the ball close to the hole. Therefore, understanding how to 'pick and choose' your spots for this technique is one of the key lessons you need to learn.
One of the great things about the game of golf is the endless variety that is presented to you on the course from shot to shot. Golf would likely get boring if all of the shots looked the same and required the same technique – but fortunately that is not the case. Instead, golfers have to learn how to adapt to the challenges in front of them in order to get around a full 18 holes with a good score. Perhaps nowhere on the course is this concept better illustrated than in the bunker. Sand conditions will vary wildly from shot to shot, and the path that you have to navigate between your ball and the hole will change dramatically as well. A bunker shot technique that works perfectly in one setting could be a disaster in another, so it will be up to you to learn how to read the clubs in order to pick the right option.
The content below is going to assume that you already know how to hit a basic bunker shot from a greenside position. If that is not the case, please take the time to learn how to hit an explosion shot before returning to this discussion on opening up the face of your wedge. As a quick summary, an explosion shot is one that you are going to use from near the green when you need to lift the ball up out of the sand and onto the putting surface. This shot requires that you contact the sand prior to the ball, so that the sand can actually do the work of raising the ball into the air. If you catch the ball before the sand, you are sure to hit the shot too hard. The explosion shot is a golf staple, and it is one of the basic building blocks of a well-rounded game.
All of the instruction 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.
The Purpose of Opening Your Wedge
Before we even address the 'how' or 'when' of this question, we should first go over the reasons why it can be helpful to open the face of your wedge when playing a sand shot. You should always understand everything that you are doing on the golf course, as that understanding will help you make better decisions on the fly. If you only take directions without finding out why, you will have trouble adapting to the various situations that you are going to run into on the course.
With that in mind, take a moment to review the following list, which includes a few of the reasons that you should open up the face of your wedge for certain bunker shots.
- Get the ball up. The most important, and most obvious, reason to open up the club face is to add loft to the shot. When you are in the bunker you are going to have some degree of lip between your ball and the hole. Therefore, you will often need to have as much loft as possible on the club in order to get the ball up quickly. Where your sand wedge probably has around 55* of loft when it is set square to the target, you can quickly increase that number to 80* or more just by laying the club head open at address. This simple adjustment can lead to a dramatic shift in the way the ball comes up out of the sand. With the face open and an explosion swing executed correctly, you should have no trouble sending the ball high into the air almost immediately.
- Cut through the sand. As mentioned above, an explosion shot requires that you cut your wedge through the sand and under the ball in one aggressive motion. When the club face is square to the sand, you might find that the club 'digs' into the sand rather than cutting through cleanly. That digging action could cause your club head to lose speed rapidly, and the ball will likely come up short of the target. When you set the face open, however, the club will have the opportunity to carve through the sand while meeting much less resistance. In the end, you are left with a swing that maintains more of its speed and a shot that easily is lifted out of the bunker and onto the green.
- Stop the ball quickly. Another advantage that you can enjoy when you lay the club face open is the ability to stop the ball quickly after it lands on the green. Of course, this is only going to be an advantage in certain situations – such as when the hole is located close to the bunker where you have found your ball. If the ball needs to get up quick and then stop thanks to a combination of loft and spin, it is an open club face that is going to help you pull off the shot successfully.
There are some obvious advantages to choosing to open up the face of the club at address. It is important that you know how to hit this kind of shot, because it is going to be called for on a semi-regular basis. Of course, we still need to get into the 'how' of this shot, as well as the 'when'. However, now that you understand what is to be gained when you opt for this style of bunker shot, you can move ahead with confidence and an understanding of what you will be trying to do with the ball.
How to Open Your Sand Wedge Properly
This probably seems like a rather simple point, and you might not think that you need any help at all when it comes to getting your club face open at address. After all, don't you just need to rotate the face to the right when you are standing over the ball? Well, yes, but there is a bit more to it than that. If you open the face the wrong way – and there is a wrong way – you will find that you are unable to produce the kinds of shots you need. Getting this point right is all about the order of operations you use while preparing to blast the ball out of the sand. Do everything in the right order and this shot will be as simple as they come. Do things out of order, however, and you will never quite be able to master the open faced explosion shot.
In reality, the act of opening up your sand wedge is part of a bigger picture when it comes to hitting a bunker shot. Therefore, the following step-by-step directions are going to cover the entire process of hitting an explosion shot from start to finish. If you can replicate this process anytime you are going to hit a sand shot using an open face, you should be on the right path toward successful outcomes.
- When you find your ball in a bunker near the green, assess the situation and decide what kind of shot you are going to hit. If that is a sand wedge shot with an open face, take your sand wedge from the bag and walk down into the bunker. We will get into the details of how to decide on what shot to hit in the next section.
- As you approach your ball, be careful not to move the sand around the ball with your feet, as that could cause the ball to move (which would be a penalty). Walk up to the ball from the side and place your feet into the sand so that you have a comfortable stance from which to swing. If there is enough sand in the bunker, you can 'wiggle' your feet back and forth to establish a firm base.
- With the club in only your right hand, hover the club head behind the ball and turn the face open. It is against the rules of golf to touch the sand with your club head while you are in the bunker, so make sure you hold the club at least a couple inches above the top of the sand. It is important that you are only holding the club in your right hand at this time.
- Once you are happy with the position of your club head, place your left hand on the grip securely. With the left hand now holding the club, take your right hand off of the grip and reposition it such that it is nicely paired up with the left. At this point, you should have a comfortable grip that will enable you to make a confident and aggressive swing.
- Before hitting the shot, take one last look up at the hole to remind yourself of the distance required for the shot. With that image fresh in your mind, look back down at the ball and make a strong swing which cuts through the sand and sends the ball softly onto the green.
So why is the order of this process so important? Simple – many golfers take their grip too early, which causes the club face to actually close back down at impact rather than staying open through the hitting area. If you take your final grip before you even establish your stance, you will likely be holding the club face in a relatively square position. Even if you turn your wrists and arms to open the club face at address, it is quickly going to close back down again once you start the swing. By following the directions that have been outlined above, you can avoid this error and ensure that your club face holds open all the way through the shot.
To confirm your success on this point, hold your finish after hitting a bunker shot and look down at the position of the face of your sand wedge. Is it pointing toward the sky? If so, you have done a good job of keeping the face open. If the face has released and is pointing off to the left, however, you should review the steps above until you can get on track.
Picking the Right Opportunities
A big part of this equation is choosing the right times to open up your sand wedge in the bunker. When used at the right opportunity, you will be able to produce high and soft bunker shots that leave you with short putts. When picked at the wrong time, you could find that you aren't even able to get the ball out of the bunker. Use the tips below to guide your decision making process.
- Plenty of sand. The first thing you are going to need if you are to lay the club open with success is plenty of sand under the ball. Sand conditions will vary from course to course – and even from bunker to bunker within the same course – so you have to decide if there is enough sand under the ball before playing any blast shot. Without enough sand, the club will bounce off the bottom of the bunker and you will likely hit the ball thin – sending it flying over the green or directly into the lip in front of you. If you decide that there isn't actually enough sand to open up the club face, you will need to keep the face relatively square to the target while playing a pitch-style shot.
- Reasonably short shot. It is incredibly difficult to hit a long bunker shot with an open club face. If the hole is more than 20 or 30 yards away from your position in the bunker you are going to have a difficult time carrying the ball far enough to reach the target. The open faced bunker shot is best-suited for situations where you only need to carry the ball a short distance. When you find the hole to be on the other side of the green from where you are in the bunker, consider playing a lower shot with a square club face in order to achieve the distance required.
- Not on the upslope. When your ball comes to rest on the upslope near the front of the bunker, you won't need to add much loft to the club by opening up the face. The upslope that is under your ball is already going to serve to force it high in the air, so you shouldn't need any extra loft. If you were to open up the face in this circumstance, you might find that you hit the ball almost directly straight up into the air – leaving you far short of the target. Again in this case, leave the face mostly square to the target and let the upslope provide the loft you need to bring the shot down softly.
- Steep lip. There are some situations that you will find yourself in on the course where simply getting out of the bunker is going to be an accomplishment. If you are in a deep bunker with steep walls, the best thing you can do is to forget about the hole and focus on getting your ball back to the grass. To do so, you will likely want to open up the club face while making a big swing. With plenty of club head speed and tons of loft on the club at impact, you should be able to throw the ball high into the air and find your way back onto the fairway (or at least, into the rough).
You are going to find plenty of chances to hit bunker shots while using an open face. However, this is not a shot that you want to force in any way. If the situation isn't just right for an open faced explosion shot, pick a different option to give yourself the best possible chance at success.
A Confident Swing
Golf is a game that requires confidence at all times, and that certainly applies when you are hitting a bunker shot with an open club face. In fact, you might need more confidence when playing this shot than when playing any other around the course (with the possible exception of a short putt). Before you put the club in motion to hit this shot, be sure that you are fully committed to executing it to the best of your abilities. If there is any doubt in your mind as to whether or not this this the right shot for the situation, you need to step back and regroup.
Why is it so important to be confident when hitting a bunker shot with an open face? This is a shot that is all about speed, meaning the club has to keep moving quickly through the hitting area – even though you are only playing from a short distance away from the target. If you don't have confidence in what you are doing, you are likely to slow up prior to hitting the sand, which will almost always lead to a disappointing result. It is essential that you are able to carry speed through the shot in order to get the loft and spin that you need to reach the target. Even when you are nervous about the result of the shot, you have to find it within yourself to stay aggressive and make a great swing.
To build up your confidence in this shot, you should spend as much time as you can in the practice area at your local course, working on your explosion shot. This is a shot that feels far more comfortable and natural after a period of practice, so invest time in learning how to feel the right speed for your swing from a greenside bunker. Players who lack experience on the course often struggle in bunkers – where more experienced golfers usually have no fear about going down into the sand to hit a great shot. Taking a little bit of time out of your usual practice routine to work on explosion shots is going to be an investment that pays off in the long run.
You don't want to lay the club face open for every single bunker shot that you hit, but you should be prepared to do so when the conditions are right. Using the content above to guide both your preparation and your decision making, this is a shot that you should be able to add to your game in the very near future.