Golf Bunker Practice Drill, Never Hit Another Bunker Shot Fat With The Rake Drill

Fatting bunker shots and leaving them in the sand can wreck a good score and help doubt invade a player's mind.

Doubt after hitting a fat bunker shot is not uncommon or surprising as many golfers are unsure what causes it. Fat bunker shots are not the same as a fatted iron shot from the fairway because unlike grass, players need to hit behind the ball in sand. This often confuses players so it's important to understand why golfers need to enter into the sand first on a standard splash bunker shot rather than striking the ball cleanly. To achieve control over the ball, players should swing the club into the sand just before the ball (about one to two inches) and leave the sand just after (again about one to two inches). This sliding of the club underneath the ball causes the ball to leave the bunker on a carpet of sand. The club face doesn't actually directly contact the ball at any time; it's maintaining the same amount of sand between the club and ball which produces consistent shots. If a player takes too much sand, the amount of power imparted on the ball at impact will be drastically reduced.

The rake drill

To help avoid golfers hitting the bunker shots fat they can use the rake drill. The rake drill stops players entering the sand too early and should provide golfers with a more consistent strike.

1. Place the rake handle on the ground 90 degrees to the target, about six inches behind the ball. If a rake is not available, another piece of wood (or something you don't mind being damaged) will suffice.

2. The point of the drill is to swing through the ball without striking the rake. If the player strikes the rake they will know they are trying to enter the sand too early.

3. To help strike down and through the ball, golfers should place about 60% of their body weight on the front foot. By keeping the weight forward throughout the swing, players can avoid striking the sand too far behind the ball.

4. If the golfer is successful at avoiding the rake and keeping the weight forward they should produce dollar sized divots between one and two inches deep and send the ball flying higher with more speed out of the bunker and on to the green.

Avoiding fat shots is important for golfers especially out of bunkers because it causes a loss of power and control through the ball. To help avoid this, golfers should keep their weight forward though the swing and use the rake drill. These two things can help make the fat bunker shot a thing of the past.

Bunker Practice Drill - Never Hit Another Bunker Shot Fat

Bunker Practice Drill - Never Hit Another Bunker Shot Fat

Playing out of a bunker can be quite a challenge for the average amateur golfer. Although bunker shots come up fairly often in this game – more often on some courses than others – most golfers fail to practice their skills from the sand. When those players do find that their ball has come to rest in a trap, they typically just swing hard and hope for the best. As you might expect, that strategy rarely is going to pay off. Just as is the case with all of the other areas of your game, you need to practice your bunker play and you need to know exactly what you are trying to do with your swing each time you step down into the sand.

The sand shots in question in this article are going to be those played from around the green. Fairway bunker shots are certainly a challenge as well, but those are a topic for another time. For now, we are going to focus first and foremost on mastering the difficult greenside bunker shot – often referred to as an 'explosion' shot. Specifically, we are going to be talking about how you can avoid hitting this shot fat. When you hit a bunker shot fat from around the green, there is a good chance the ball won't even get out of the trap. If that happens, you will have wasted a stroke and you will still be in a difficult situation. To give yourself the best chance to stay away from fat shots in the sand, we will offer a drill in this article, along with plenty of other tips.

Right off the bat, you are going to realize there is something a bit tricky about this entire topic. While we are talking about avoiding fat bunker shots, it should be noted that all explosion shots from a greenside bunker are going to be hit fat – on purpose. You need to hit behind the ball in order to play this kind of shot correctly. If you were to hit the ball first, as you do in the fairway, the shot would either fail to get off the ground, or it would go shooting across the green. The correct technique for an explosion shot out of the sand involves hitting behind the ball on purpose.

With all of that said, the point of this article is to help you hit your bunker shots just fat enough to create a perfect trajectory and distance. If you hit too close to the ball, the shot will come out too fast – but hit too far behind, and you will never get out of the trap at all. Hopefully, with the help of the advice in this article, you will be able to balance those two extremes and hit each of your bunker shots with just the right amount of sand to loft the ball gently up toward the hole.

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.

Signs of Trouble

Signs of Trouble

Before you start working on making any changes to your bunker technique, it would be wise to make sure you actually have a problem in the first place. After all, there is no need to waste time trying to fix mistakes that aren't really mistakes to begin with. Fortunately, it is pretty easy to tell if you are hitting the ball fatter than you should be in the bunker. Watch for the following signs of trouble during upcoming rounds.

  • Leaving the ball short of the target. Okay – so this is an obvious point. If you are regularly leaving your bunker shots short of the intended target, there is a good chance you are catching too much sand on the way through the ball. This could mean you aren't even getting out of the bunker – or, you are getting out of the bunker but not reaching the hole. Either way, you will need to adjust your entry point into the sand if you want to cover the full distance required.
  • The shot feels 'heavy' at the bottom. Sometimes, you will need to use nothing other than your own feel to decide that you are taking too much sand on the way through. If the shot feels heavy at the bottom – meaning you feel like you are really having to work to drag the club through the ball – too much sand has gotten in the way. While you do need to take a chunk of sand out of the trap on this kind of shot, too much sand is going to make it impossible to hit a good shot. Take note if you are consistently feeling like the shot is too heavy, and make the adjustments necessary to put the club into the sand closer to the ball.
  • No spin on your shots. One of the advantages you can find when playing a greenside bunker shot is the fact that you should be able to put some significant backspin on the ball – even from a short distance. When struck correctly, a greenside bunker shot can have enough spin to stop almost immediately when it lands. Of course, if you catch too much sand before you go through the ball, you won't get any of this spin. Instead, your ball will come out with almost no spin at all, and it will bounce and roll significantly after it lands. Failing to get any meaningful amount of spin on the ball when coming from a greenside bunker is a sure sign that you are hitting the sand too far behind the ball as you swing down.
  • No follow through. For a standard explosion shot, the club should move through the sand and on up to a full finish. The club head should be at least waist high when you are done, and some players even like to swing up much higher than that. If you find that the club is barely even getting out of the sand at all – and it isn't getting anywhere near waist high – you may have a problem with hitting these shots fat. Do your best to follow through on your greenside bunker shots as a way to check on your technique. If a full follow through feels impossible, you can be sure too much sand has gotten involved.

You probably don't need much help figuring out whether or not you are hitting your bunker shots fat. Just like when you hit the ball fat from the middle of the fairway, this is the kind of thing that usually makes itself clear immediately. With that said, the points listed above should help you confirm your suspicions. Once you decide that you are having trouble with fat bunker shots, the obvious next step is to turn your attention toward a fix.

The Drill

The Drill

If you are serious about your golf game, and serious about taking your game to a higher level, you should already be using drills in a variety of areas. The right drill can help you to learn complicated techniques in a short period of time. Or, used another way, drills can help to reinforce things that you already know but have trouble executing. Professional golfers use drills all the time to keep their games on track, and you should be doing the same.

In this case, we are going to be using a drill which will help you put your club into the sand at just the right point. As we have already established, hitting too far behind the ball in the bunker can lead to a number of problems. So, if you want to elevate your level of play in the greenside traps, you will need to learn how to take just the right amount of sand for the desired result. This drill is going to help you do just that.

To perform the drill, please follow the steps below.

  • You are going to need to find a practice bunker you can use for this drill. Not all golf courses offer practice bunkers, but there is likely at least one near you that does. Check with the various facilities in your area to find a spot where you can work on this part of your game. Some courses will provide access to their short game practice area at no charge, while others will have a small fee in place.
  • Once you have found a spot to practice, you are going to need nothing more than your sand wedge and a few golf balls for the drill. Some drills in this game require you to find, or even buy, a variety of pieces of gear. That is not the case here. Just your wedge, some golf balls, and a practice bunker is all that will be required.
  • To get started, pick out a target on the practice green that you will use to aim these shots. Even though you are more concerned with your ability to take the right amount of sand than the ultimate outcome of the shot, it is still important to have a target. After you have picked a target, place the first golf ball down on the sand. You want to give yourself a good lie, so make sure the ball is sitting on top of the sand, and rake the area if necessary to eliminate any previous divots.
  • Before starting your swing, you are going to draw a line in the sand behind the golf ball. You can simply use the club head of your wedge to draw this line. The line should be six inches-or-so behind the ball, and it should be perpendicular to your target line.
  • With the line drawn, go ahead and hit your first bunker shot. The goal is simple – get the ball up and out of the sand without touching that line on the way through. If you wipe out the line, you will know that you have entered the sand too early, and you have hit the shot fat. Feel free to hit a few shots in a row using this drill, resetting your area each time. The nice thing about practicing in a bunker is you can always restore your working area just by raking it out quickly.

That's it. This is one of the simplest drills you can perform in golf, but it is also one of the most helpful – at least as far as greenside bunker shots are concerned. By simply drawing a line in the sand before your practice shots, you will have a great visual of how the club is moving through the ball, and whether or not you are hitting the shot fat. In addition to the line that you have drawn, your club is going to leave a divot in the bunker after you swing through – meaning you can look down after the shot is complete to see exactly what happened.

Making Adjustments

Making Adjustments

For the sake of this article, we are going to assume that during the use of the drill above, you discovered that you were hitting the ball fat more often than not. It is great to be armed with that information, but the information is only going to be beneficial if you take action. How do you stop hitting the ball fat? What can you do from a technical perspective to put the club into the sand at exactly the right spot? The tips below will help.

  • Hold off on using your right hand. If you are regularly hitting your bunker shots fat, it is likely that you are letting your right hand get involved too early. On the way down, the left hand should be leading the way, pulling the club down toward the ball while the right hand goes along for the ride. It is true that the right hand needs to 'fire' through the hitting area to propel the club through the sand, but you need to wait as long as possible to make that move. If you let the right hand take over too early, the club will be forced down into the sand and the result will be a fat shot. Do your best to keep the right hand out of the way until absolutely necessary and you should start to make contact with the ground closer to the ball.
  • Keep your right shoulder high. As you are swinging your wedge in the bunker, you know that you need to elevate the ball up into the air to clear the lip and get onto the green. With that thought in mind, you may be tempted to lean back away from the target to help the ball get up. That would be a mistake. If you let your right shoulder drop, you are going to take a lot of sand with you and the shot will come up short. You have to trust the loft of the club to do its job. Instead of trying to help the ball into the air, swing through on a flat plane and use the loft to send the ball skyward. Your sand wedge probably has around 55* of loft anyway, and you should have opened it even more at address. With that much loft, the shot simply isn't going to need any extra help to get up and out. Keep that right shoulder high and swing through just as you would on any other shot.
  • Keep your eyes on the ball. This is a classic golf tip, of course, but it is just as important here in the bunker as it is anywhere else on the course. You would usually associate looking up early with hitting a thin shot, but pulling your eyes out of a bunker shot could cause you to hit it fat instead. There is nothing to see up on the green before you hit the ball, so there is no point in looking up early – watch the ball carefully as you swing and let the momentum of the club swinging through the sand pull your head up as the shot flies away. While most people are comfortable looking at the ball while they swing, you may choose to look at a spot behind the ball to target as your entry point into the sand. Either method is acceptable, so try them both in practice.

The swing you use in the bunker doesn't have to be complicated. You should have a wide stance to stabilize your swing, you should hold off on using your right hand until the last possible moment, and you should make a bigger swing than you think will be necessary (because the sand will rob you of some speed through the hitting area). Use the tips above to get on track and hopefully your bunker play will improve in the near future.

Strategy in the Sand

Strategy in the Sand

To this point, we have talked only about technique in the bunker. Good technique is important, of course, but you also need to make solid strategic decisions in the sand as well. The first strategic point you will want to keep in mind is the lie of the golf ball. When you have a good lie, all options are on the table. You can choose to take the ball directly at the flag if you wish, or you can play off to one side or the other for safety. What does a good lie look like in the sand? You want to see the ball sitting up cleanly on top of the sand, rather than sitting down in a depression. Also, you want to make sure there is no sand (or anything else) behind the golf ball which may affect the way it leaves the hazard.

If you don't draw a good lie, you need to instantly become more conservative with your strategy. Instead of thinking about getting the ball up and down, your first concern should be to simply get out of the trap in one shot. You might need to play away from the hole in order to get out in just a single shot, so executing on this point is going to take discipline. You need to set aside the frustration you feel over drawing a bad lie in the sand and just make a rational decision based on the best available options.

One other important strategy point to keep in mind has to do with the putt that is going to follow your sand shot. Where do you want to putt from? Obviously, you want to putt from as close to the hole as possible, but you can be more specific than that. Which side of the hole would give you a straighter putt, or an uphill putt rather than a quick downhill roll? Leaving your ball in the correct position can make your life a lot easier once you have the putter in your hands. And, since you are starting so close to the green, you should be able to hit the selected side of the hole with relative consistency. Remember, it is often better to putt uphill from farther away than it is to putt downhill from closer. For instance, if you have the option, a five-footer up the hill is probably going to be easier to make than a three-footer which is racing away.

By using the simple drill of drawing a line in the sand for your practice bunker shots, you should be able to take fat sand shots out of your game once and for all. Nothing in golf is going to get better without practice, however, so invest the time necessary to work through this drill and change your technique as required. You will find great confidence on the course knowing that you are unlikely to hit your sand shots fat – and you just might be able to turn that confidence into frequent up and downs when you do find the bunkers. Good luck!