Hold Clubface Open to Escape Sand 1

If you tend to leave lots of shots in greenside bunkers, you might be suffering from an overactive release.

While releasing the club -- rolling over the hands and forearms just before and after impact -- is an essential element of solid wood and iron play, it's not recommended for many bunker shots. Releasing the hands in the usual manner can cause the club's leading edge to knife too far into the sand, causing the ball to fall short of its target.

To prevent over-rotating through impact, make several practice swings without flipping the wrists. Keep the back of your left hand – and by extension, the clubface -- pointing toward the sky on the follow-through. Use the same action when it's time to play the shot.

This method works well on short bunker shots (35 feet or less), but for longer shots the hands should be allowed to release naturally. Otherwise, you'll have trouble hitting the ball far enough.

How do you feel about bunker shots?

Hold Clubface Open to Escape Sand

If you are like most amateur golfers, you don't exactly get excited when you see your ball fall into the sand. And, of course, you shouldn't be excited – it would be better to keep your ball on the grass whenever possible. However, bunker shots don't have to ruin your round, as using a combination of good technique and smart planning can get you out of the trap and back in position in a single swing.

One of the keys to successfully escaping bunker is holding the clubface open through the swing. As the club enters the sand and travels under the ball, it needs to remain wide open, so you can utilize the maximum available loft. Most greenside bunker shots need to be hit relatively high, and the best way to do that is to hold the face open. Unfortunately, this is a point that many average golfers seem to struggle with in the sand. The average player keeps the face too square to the target line, reducing the available loft and causing the wedge to dig into the trap. If you can learn how to play these kinds of shots with an open face from start to finish, you are sure to see improved results.

If you are willing to even think about, and work on, your bunker play, you are already going to be a step ahead of the competition. A large percentage of golfers largely ignore their short game, never going beyond rolling a few putts in terms of practice. In reality, you should be practicing your short game just as much as your long game, if not more. The short game makes up roughly half of the shots you will play in any given round, so its importance should not be a surprise. Learn how to play well out of the sand and you will be closer to the goal of having a well-rounded short game as the foundation of your play on the course.

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.

Mind Games

Mind Games

Believe it or not, the mental challenge of a greenside bunker shot may be even more imposing than the physical challenge. Playing from the sand is a completely different experience from hitting shots off grass. You are going to have to change your entire way of thinking when you step down into the bunker, and that can be difficult – especially if you only play golf a few times per year. If you get to play more frequently, you will get comfortable with the demands of a bunker shot, and it won't seem so foreign.

The biggest change when you enter a greenside bunker is the fact that you won't actually be trying to make contact with the ball. For a typical explosion shot, you will try to swing under the ball in the sand, using the sand itself to carry the ball out and onto the green. Making clean contact in the sand to pitch the ball up toward the hole is simply too difficult in most cases, making the explosion shot a better option. Only when an explosion shot won't work – such as when the bunker is wet and the sand is hard – should you opt to hit the ball first.

So, if you are trying to hit a standard explosion shot, you'll need to swing aggressively through the sand and under the ball. The main challenge here is keeping the speed of your swing up since the sand is going to provide so much resistance. You are close to the hole, so you won't feel like you should make a big swing, but a big swing is exactly what will be needed. In many cases, you will need to use something close to your full swing in order to hit the ball just 20 or 30 yards.

Finally, we get to the topic of swinging with an open clubface. Since we have been talking about swinging under the ball, it will be important to keep the face open to make sure the club can get all the way under the ball successfully. If you were to keep the face in a square position, you would 'plow' too much sand when the club reached the bottom of the swing. Not only would the ball come out too low for most greenside bunker shots, you would also have a hard time hitting the shot far enough. There are a few occasions where it will work to keep your wedge square with the target line, and we will touch on those later in the article.

A big hurdle that you will need to clear while learning this shot is the fact that looking down from address at an open clubface can make some players a little uncomfortable. This is a different look than what you get on most of your shots, so you may feel out of your comfort zone. Also, you might not think that keeping the face open so far is going to allow you to reach the target. Remember, opening the face is going to help the club cut through the sand, meaning you should get more carry distance than you would with a square face.

In the end, the best way to get over the mental hurdles associated with bunker shots is simply to practice. With every shot you hit, you'll get more and more comfortable with how these shots work. It will be easier to trust yourself to make a full swing from such short distance, and it will be easier to make that swing with an open clubface. Try to find as many opportunities as possible to hit practice bunker shots and you should see plenty of progress moving forward.

Solid Technique

Solid Technique

As you might expect, there is a little more to hitting a good bunker shot than just opening the face and making any kind of swing. You need to have specific technique in place in order to create a proper explosion shot from a greenside bunker. Opening the face is one good step in the right direction, but you certainly aren't done when you check off that point.

The list below highlights the main keys to hitting a quality greenside bunker shot. Next time to practice your bunker technique, keep these points in mind.

  • Open your stance. You want to swing across the ball from outside to inside when hitting a greenside bunker shot. To do so, the best way to start is with an open stance. Drop your left foot back farther than usual from the ball and move your right foot in a bit closer. Then, when making the swing, move the club across the ball to match up with your stance. This kind of outside-in swing path is going to accomplish a couple of things. First, it is going to help you get the ball up in the air, which is an important step on the way to a quality bunker shot. Also, swinging across the ball will help the club knife into the sand successfully. You will be making a steeper downswing on this path than if you came from an inside-out path. There are some bunker shots where you will want to square up your stance, but the average greenside explosion shot is best handled with an open stance at address.
  • Use the whole club. If you usually choke down on the grip of your wedge for standard chip shots, break that habit when you find yourself in the sand. The name of the game on an explosion shot is swing speed, so you want to have the full club at your disposal. Keep your hands up near the top of the grip, only coming down a half-inch or so, if that makes you more comfortable. Using the full length of the club is going to help you produce speed on the way down, leading to a cleaner trip through the sand and on to the finish.
  • Wide feet, flexed knees. It is extremely important that you have a stable base working for you on these kinds of bunker shots. You are going to be making a big turn with your upper body, and you will be swinging down quite aggressively into the ball. If you don't have a stable base, it will be hard to stay balanced and you may not put the club into the sand at the right point. To stabilize your base, move your feet outside of shoulder width apart and add extra flex to your knees. The combination of those two adjustments will leave you feeling quite secure and ready for a powerful swing.
  • Move the right hand under the club. This is the key that is going to allow you to keep the clubface open through the hitting area. The title of this article mentions the need to 'hold the clubface open', and this is how you are going to do it. As you swing down through the hitting area, think about firing your right hand under the club, rather than over the top. When making a normal swing on the grass, you probably let your right hand roll over the top of the grip at impact, closing down the face and (hopefully) leading to a relatively straight shot. This is not what you want to do in the bunker. In the sand, you need to hold that clubface open in order to expose maximum loft to the ball at impact. Your right hand action is basically going to mirror the action of the clubface at impact. If the right hand closes down, so will the club. By keeping your palm pointing up to the sky, the face will remain open and you will have plenty of loft available to get the ball up into the air.
  • Keep your head down! Okay – so this golf tip isn't exactly breaking new ground, as you have heard it time after time since you started playing this game. However, keeping your head down is still important, and it is particularly crucial when trying to blast the ball out of the sand. You are trying to swing the club head under the ball on an explosion shot, and that is almost impossible to do if you pull your head up early. Pick a spot in the sand to focus your eyes on and keep watching that spot until the club has moved through and the ball has been sent on its way. It takes discipline to keep your head down properly, but you will be rewarded if you are able to resist the temptation to look up.

The best way to escape the sand consistently is to use proper technique and to practice that technique regularly. Bunker shots aren't actually that hard, but you do need to know what you are doing before you can handle them properly. Without good technique, it seems impossible to get the ball up out of the sand and onto the green in a single swing.