When you find yourself in a greenside bunker the objective is not to hit the ball but rather to hit the sand below which will push the ball up. A bunker shot is essentially a fat shot where the club penetrates the sand some 2” behind the ball. Follow the step-by-step instructions below to learn how to get how of bunkers every time.
Club Selection: Sand Wedge
For normal shots in bunkers around the green you will want to use your sand wedge. This type of wedge usually has around 56 degrees of loft and most importantly features bounce on the trailing edge of the golf club. Both of those features will help the clubhead bounce off the sand (instead of digging into the sand) and propel the ball into a nice trajectory onto the green.
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Note that there are situations where bounce is not recommended for bunker shots. For instance, see our guide on how to hit from a bunker with wet sand.
Choke Down on the Club
Place your hands and fingers a little lower on the grip of the club than you normally would. This will translate into a slightly shorter shaft, bringing you closer to the ball and giving you more control. Bunker shots require finesse rather than pure power so the full length of the club is not required in most instances.
Grip the Club with an Open Clubface
For regular bunker shots you will not want to grip your sand wedge as you normally would any other club, i.e., where the face of the club is square to the target. Rather, you will want to grip the club in your hands so that the clubface is open, pointing to the right rather than square (or at the target). This will add more loft to the club (shooting the ball higher) and will bring the bounce of the club more in play (and reducing your chances of digging into the sand too deeply).
Note that it is crucial that you place your hands and fingers on your club AFTER first rotating the club inside your hands. This is in contrast to gripping the club normally and opening up the clubface through a rotation of your wrists. The problem with opening the clubface this way is that your mind and body will reposition your wrists – and club – to a square position instinctively on the downswing and into impact with the ball, canceling your setup efforts.
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Widen your Stance
Increase the distance between your two feet so that your stance is a little wider than it would normally be when using a wedge in the fairway. Around shoulder-width or a little wider is good. This will add stability to your swing, and bring you closer to the ball. Being closer means that you will have an easier time hitting the sand underneath the ball rather than hitting the ball directly.
Open your Stance
Open your stance so your feet are pointing left of the target. Doing so will bring your clubface direction more in line with the flag, effectively putting you in a situation where the clubface is pointed just slightly right of the target.
Aim 2” Behind Ball – Position the Ball Forward in your Stance
Instead of placing the ball squarely in the middle of your stance as you would when using a wedge in the fairway position the ball a little forward instead. The idea here is for the clubhead to penetrate the sand approximately 2” behind the ball, to see it travel underneath the ball without touching it directly and to exit the sand some 4” in front of the original position of the ball. Effectively, you are trying to leave a divot that will be around 6” in length in total, or roughly the size of an American dollar bill.
Dig your Feet into the Sand
When the location of the ball in relation to your feet and the width of your stance is set it is time to dig your feet into the sand a little. As with the wider stance, this will give you extra stability and protect you from slipping as you swing and execute your shot. Likewise, it will also bring you closer to the ball slightly, encouraging a ‘fat’ shot that is required for bunker shots. Finally, doing so will give you clues as to how firm the sand around your ball is, which when performed while setting up is allowed under the rules of golf.
Accelerate Towards the Ball with a Full Follow Through
Being tentative in the bunker simply doesn’t work. You have to trust that your setup is correct, commit to your swing and go for it. Deceleration in your swing can result in the ball getting stuck in the bunker and your having to hit the shot all over again. This can be very demoralizing. Note that sand will provide noticeable resistance as the clubhead enters it and you will want to pop the ball up and out of the bunker, both of which take good swing speed and acceleration.
Control your Distance with the Length of your Backswing
Try to make it a point to integrate bunker practice into your range sessions whenever it is possible. Vary the length of the backswing and observe how far the ball flies and rolls on the green. Just remember that while the length of the backswing can be altered you should aim to always finish with a full follow through. Doing so will help guarantee swing acceleration into the ball.