right palm up better bunker shot

Before the tip, a brief history lesson:

Gene Sarazen, aka “The Squire,” was one of just five golfers to win all four of golf's professional major championships. His double-eagle on the 15th hole in the final round of the 1935 Masters is arguably the greatest shot in history. Yet Sarazen's most lasting achievement may have been his invention of the sand wedge. By adding “bounce” to the bottom of a conventional wedge, Sarazen created a club that wouldn't dig into the sand, making it much easier to escape bunkers.

But bounce is no good if you don't use it properly. When the clubhead enters the sand on a steep angle, the leading edge digs and the bounce is essentially nullified. A shallower entry angle, with the clubface open, exposes the bounce so the clubhead slides through the sand.

If you tend to stick the club into the sand, try this simple alteration:

  • Take your normal grip with the clubface square.
  • Relax your left (top) hand and rotate your right hand and clubface to the right. The right palm should now point up.
  • Hit the shot with your normal action, aiming for a spot a couple of inches behind the ball.

This method serves a couple of purposes: 1) It prevents the hands from rolling over before impact, keeping the blade open and the bounce exposed, and 2) It creates a shallower approach angle into the sand.

Improved bunker play really can be as simple as a minor grip change. Try it and see.

Right Palm Up for Better Golf Bunker Shots

Right Palm Up for Better Golf Bunker Shots

Do you dread having to step down into a bunker to play a shot? If so, you aren't alone – many amateur golfers hate having to deal with the sand. That stands in contrast to players in the professional ranks, who actually don't mind most bunker shots. As long as they draw a good lie, the average pro won't worry too much about having to blast the ball up out of the sand and onto the green. So why don't pros hate this shot in the same way amateurs do? It all comes down to technique. When you have the right technique on your side, you will realize there isn't much to fear in the average bunker.

In this article, we are going to address one very specific part of your bunker shots – the way your right hand works through impact. This might seem like an awfully small detail, but it is actually one of the most important keys to hitting good sand shots. If you can master the movement of your right hand through impact, you will be able to loft the ball up and out of the trap time after time.

Of course, we should point out that this article is talking specifically about explosion shots played from greenside bunker. Long shots played with a full swing from a fairway bunker are an entirely different conversation. The advice you are going to find throughout this article is only relevant when you want to blast the ball out of the sand and onto the green. Most golfers call this an explosion shot, as the sand will 'explode' out from under the ball as the wedge cuts through at the bottom of the swing.

As you work on your explosion shot, remember that you aren't actually trying to hit the ball with the club. This is a rare shot in golf – one that you are intentionally trying to miss the ball as you swing. Instead of hitting the ball, you are going to hit the sand, and the sand is going to provide the ball with the energy it needs to fly up to the target. To make sure the ball gets enough energy to leave the bunker, you will need to swing quite hard on this type of shot. Many amateur golfers get hung up on this point, as they don't want to swing very hard since they are close to the target. Trust that the sand is going to take plenty of speed out of your swing and make an aggressive move down through the ball.

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.

Solving a Common Problem

Solving a Common Problem

To get the ball out of the sand with a single swing, you need to accomplish two specific things. First, you need to give the ball enough energy to leave the bunker. If the shot isn't hit hard enough to travel the necessary distance, it will simply plop back down in the sand and you may even be in a worse spot than when you started. In addition to power, the shot also needs elevation. This is where many amateur players struggle. Rather than lofting the ball up into the air – high enough to clear the lip of the bunker safely – some players hit shot after shot right into the face in front of them. This is frustrating, of course, and it will cost you plenty of strokes along the way.

To solve this problem, the first thing you need to do is have the right club in your hands. To play an explosion shot, you should be using a highly-lofted wedge – either a lob wedge or a sand wedge. A club referred to as a sand wedge will usually have at least 55* of loft, while a lob wedge may have as much as 60* loft. You can use any club in this range, but you really shouldn't go below 55*. Without enough loft, you will need to work extra hard to get the ball up in the air and out of the trap.

Once you have the right club, you need to use the right technique through the ball. This is what was referenced in the title of the article. As the club swings through the sand, your right palm should remain up for as long as possible. If you were to pause your swing while the club was under the ball, you should see that your palm is facing up toward the sky. Why is this important? Simple – the position of your palm is going to be reflected in the position of the club face. With your palm up to the sky, you can be sure that the club face is pointing up as well. That means you are maximizing the loft you use on the shot, and you should have no trouble getting the ball up into the air.

Of course, this technique can be difficult for many players to execute because it is the opposite of what you should be doing with your normal swing. When you hit a regular shot off the grass, you will turn down your palm as you move through the ball. This move will let you hit down on the shot, pinching the ball against the turf and adding backspin along the way. That is the perfect way to strike the ball while on the grass, but it just isn't going to work for an explosion shot. In many ways, the technique you use from a greenside bunker is exactly the opposite of what is used on the rest of the course.

To go along with proper right hand technique and plenty of loft on the club, you will also want to play this kind of shot forward in your stance at address. When lining up to take your stance, make sure the ball is positioned well forward of center. Using a forward ball position will let the swing flatten out before you put the club in the sand. That means you won't be hitting down on the shot, and the ball will be less likely to shoot into the bunker face in front of you. While this is the best way to play greenside bunker shots, you do have to be careful to avoid pulling up out of the shot early. If you have the ball forward in your stance and you lift up early, you won't get through the sand properly and the end result will be a thin shot.

Bringing together the three key points highlighted in this section – a highly-lofted wedge, a right hand which has its palm pointing toward the sky, and a forward ball position – should make it easy for you to achieve the height you need. When you hit bunker shots with plenty of height, they will easily clear the lip and they will stop quicker, as well. After a little bit of practice with your new technique, you may find that you suddenly don't fear bunker shots the way you once did.

A Helpful Practice Drill

A Helpful Practice Drill

Even though you now know that you should keep your right palm up through impact in the bunker, you might have trouble executing this move. It is, after all, completely different from anything else you try to do on the course. When learning a new skill, it is often a good idea to turn to a practice drill to ingrain the techniques that you wish to add. Toward that end, we have laid out a practice drill below which can help you use your right hand properly in the bunker. Follow these steps and your bunker play should improve rapidly.

  • To get started, you are going to need to find a practice bunker. Depending on where you live, this may be easier said than done. In some areas, it is standard for golf courses to offer practice bunkers right along with the rest of their facilities. In other areas, this amenity will be hard to find. If there isn't a practice bunker at your home course, call around to see if you can locate one in the area. Some courses make their practice bunkers available for free, while others may charge you a small fee to use the facility.
  • Once you have a place to practice, you are going to step down into the practice bunker with your wedge and a few golf balls. Pick out a target for these shots, and place the golf balls down such that you have a good lie on top of the sand. Be sure to aim in a direction that will provide you with a safe line of play even if you hit the ball too hard. You are going to be modifying your technique with this drill, so you don't want to risk hitting one into the parking lot by aiming in the wrong direction.
  • Now that you are ready to make a swing, take your left hand off the club and tuck it into your pocket (or put it behind your back). For this drill, you will be swinging with your right hand only.
  • To start the swing, turn your shoulders away from the target as you would with any other shot. It should be your shoulders which drive the backswing while your right hand and the club just go along for the ride.
  • When the backswing is complete, transition into the downswing and send the club aggressively down into the sand. As you swing, be aware that you need to keep your palm up toward the sky through impact. To do so, you will need to keep your head and shoulders down and into the shot. Lifting up even slightly before impact will lead to ugly results.
  • You shouldn't expect to hit perfect bunker shots when only using one hand, but you should be able to at least lob the ball out of the sand and onto the green. Repeat the drill as many times as you would like until you have a good understanding of the feel that comes with keeping your right palm up.

By taking your left hand out of the equation, you should be able to feel how the right hand needs to work in order to hit a good bunker shot. The left hand is always going to work to turn the club down, due to its position on the grip, so removing it temporarily is a good way to go. When you do put the left hand back in place, make sure it doesn't have too much influence over the movement of the club through impact. Keep the palm of your right hand pointing up to the sky, swing through aggressively, and watch the ball float beautifully out of the trap and onto the green.

Plenty of Other Considerations

Plenty of Other Considerations

Bunker shots are not simple. One of the things that causes many amateur golfers to fear bunker shots is the fact that there are so many variables in play. Not only do you need to have the right technique in place to handle this kind of shot, but you also need to know how to read your lie, plan your shot, etc. There is a lot to do, and it can be hard to remember all of the steps when you only play from a bunker once or twice per round. Professional golfers play this game nearly every day, so they don't have to think twice when stepping down into the sand. The story is different for you, however, so it is important to prepare mentally in order to respond well when the challenge arises.

In this section, we are going to highlight a number of points you need to keep in mind while preparing to play a bunker shot.

  • Check the lie of the ball. This is the first thing you should do prior to any shot, whether you are playing off the grass or out of the sand. You want to see plenty of sand underneath the ball, as well as a clean path for the club to come into impact (no sand piled up behind the ball). If you don't have a clean lie, you should consider playing some other type of shot rather than an explosion. For instance, you could use less loft and chip the ball out of the trap, if the lip is low enough in front of you.
  • Assess the slope. How is the slope of the ground under your feet? Do you have a relatively flat lie, or is the ground tilted in one direction or another? With a flat lie, you will be able to hit a standard shot with no issues. However, if the ground is sloped significantly, problems could be waiting. A slope that is tilted toward the hole is going to make it difficult to hit the ball high enough to get out of the bunker. On the other hand, ground sloped up toward the target will often cause you to come up short due to a high flight. While you can't do anything to change the lie, you can adjust by changing clubs and altering your game plan slightly. Use a lob wedge instead of a sand wedge when on a downslope, and consider a gap wedge or even a pitching wedge when on an upslope. Changing the amount of loft you use for this kind of shot is an effective way to counteract the effects of the slope.
  • Judge the distance to you need to carry the shot. One of the hardest shots in the entire game of golf is a bunker shot that needs to be carried more than 10 or 15 yards. If you need to hit a greenside bunker shot 20 or 30 yards through the air, you are going to have difficulty reaching the target with a standard shot. It is simply hard to blast the ball that far while taking sand as you would with a typical explosion shot. It is not impossible, necessarily, it is just very hard to do. When you are faced with a long bunker shot, consider playing a pitch shot rather than a blast from the bunker. You will catch the ball clean with this type of shot, meaning more of the energy from the club is going to be transferred into the ball. On the downside, it is hard to execute this shot consistently, and the ball will come out relatively low. If you would like to use this shot in your game, be sure to practice it before ever giving it a try on the course.
  • Sand conditions. One of the hardest things to adjust for in golf is sand conditions. Not only will the condition of the sand vary from course to course, it can also vary from day to day – and even from hole to hole. The level of moisture both in the air and in the ground can have a profound effect on the way the sand plays. Wet sand is heavy, making it difficult to cut the club into the sand for an explosion shot. If you are playing a course which is featuring heavy, hard-packed sand, you will want to be very careful when trying to blast the ball out of the trap. These kinds of shots tend to come out quickly, and you can easily send the ball well over the target with even a slight miss-hit.

The best thing you can do for your sand game is to gain experience. The more bunker shots you hit, the most comfortable you will be in terms of reading the lie and everything that goes into each shot. There is always going to be a bit of guesswork involved with bunker play, but you will get better and better as you accumulate experience in the sand.

Using This Technique on the Grass

Using This Technique on the Grass

As mentioned earlier, the technique of keeping your right palm facing up toward the sky through impact is focused on the sand, rather than shots you hit from the grass. There is one exception to that rule, however – the flop shot. When you need to hit a flop shot off of the grass to get the ball up high and stop it quickly, you can take your bunker technique and apply it outside of the trap.

To pull this off, the first thing you will need is a good lie. The ball must be sitting up, ideally on the short rough where you will have a little bit of air between the ball and the ground. That 'padding' under the ball will give you space to slide the club underneath the ball, just as you do when playing in a bunker. Without a good lie, your best bet would be to simply avoid the flop shot altogether.

When making your swing, think about keeping your right palm up all the way through impact. You can't flinch when hitting this shot – you have to have total confidence in what you are doing, and you have to see it through all the way to the end. Of course, you also have to spend plenty of time practicing this shot, as it is certainly and advanced level skill. Even pro golfers have trouble with flop shots from time to time, so this is not a play to take for granted.

By keeping your right palm facing up through the hitting area when playing greenside bunker shots, your performance is sure to improve. You will be able to keep the club face pointing toward the sky, which means you will have maintained plenty of loft and the shot should come out high. With a little practice, you will learn how to judge these shots nicely and you will get up and down from the sand at a higher rate than ever before. Good luck!