BOSTON – Perhaps no shot strikes more fear into the hearts of average golfers than the greenside bunker shot. Without the proper technique and the necessary confidence, all sorts of bad things can happen, from a skulled shot over the green to hitting the ball fat and catching the lip.
For many average golfers, finding the sand is the quickest way to a double bogey. But it doesn’t have to be. With the knowledge of how to play a bunker shot and, of course, practice, your heart will no longer be pounding when you dig your feet into the sand.
Here are 10 tips that will improve your bunker play.
1. Start With the Set-Up
It all begins with ball position. Make sure the ball is forward in your stance so that the clubhead enters the sand in front of the golf ball. If the ball is centered, the club is more likely to hit the ball first, sending it flying over the green. Also, dig your feet into the sand so that the soles of your shoes disappear. This lowers the bottom of your swing, making it easier to take sand. Finally, open your stance and place most of your weight onto your front foot, which will promote a steep descent and create the desired splash of sand and backspin.
2. Choke Down on the Club
Holding the club lower on the grip will create a shorter shaft, bring you closer to the ball and give you more control. Bunker shots require finesse rather than pure power, so the full length of the club is not required in most instances.
3. Let Sand Be Your Friend
As indicated above, taking sand behind the ball is critical when playing a greenside bunker shot. The goal is to hit one or two inches behind the ball, allowing the sand to propel the ball onto the green.
4. Put The Club to Work
Lob, sand and gap wedges have a design factor called “bounce,” which helps the club glide through the sand. In order for the bounce to work, your clubface needs to be square or slightly open. For most average golfers who have a lower swing speed, it’s best to keep the clubface square. Look for writing on the grip or shaft of the club; that will tell you when it’s sitting properly. Once again, your set-up is important. With your ball position forward in your stance, your club handle should still be centered in your body so that it points to your center, thus helping to maintain loft and bounce.
5. Understand Sand Conditions
The condition of the sand will play a role in how the ball comes out of the bunker. When the sand is fluffy, the ball should come out softly. Shots played from firm, wet sand will come out quickly, with lots of spin.
6. Keep It Simple
Instead of focusing on the perfect shot, think of just getting the ball onto the green. Too many golfers attempt to execute the perfect bunker shot and leave it in the sand. Therefore, ask yourself a few questions. Are you using enough loft to clear the lip? Is your lie good enough to take the line you have picked out? Lowering your expectations might not result in getting up and down for par, but you probably won’t make a double or triple bogey, either.
7. Swing Outside-In
An outside-in swing path, with a slight wrist hinge at the top, will produce a high, soft trajectory. And make certain to follow through and stay down. Chunk shots happen when you decelerate or stop at impact. The goal is to splash the ball out, and to do that you need a steep swing and a high follow-through.
8. Swing Hard
Arnold Palmer was once asked his advice on playing bunker shots. He said, “Aim a few inches behind the ball and swing like there’s no tomorrow!” Too many golfers fail to swing hard enough, with the result being that the ball remains in the bunker. It’s important to generate momentum when playing a bunker shot, using the momentum of the golf club to create the speed needed to propel ball onto the green. Use the same swing speed for a greenside bunker shot as you would for a full golf swing. You are taking sand with the shot, so it won’t go far.
9. Know What Club to Select
Do you pull the same club every time you’re in a greenside bunker? Unless you have an extremely high lip right in front of your ball, the distance to the pin should determine your club selection. Use your lob wedge (58-60 degrees) for the shortest shots, the sand wedge (54-56 degrees) for medium distances and the gap wedge (50-52 degrees) for shots where you must carry the ball a great distance to the hole.
Sounds obvious, right? But how often do you step into a bunker at your local practice facility and work on your bunker play. Virtually every golfer hits balls at the range and works on their short game at the putting green. Very few practice bunker shots. Gary Player once said, “It’s funny how the more I practice my bunker shots the luckier I get.” Make bunker shots a part of your practice routine. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you improve.
Please remember to rake all traps after hitting! Good luck! Have fun!