Improving your technique reduces the fear of bunker play and builds self-confidence in your shot-making capabilities.
Assuming the texture of the sand is similar, and the ball is not plugged, the technique for hitting out of a green side bunker remains the same for shots up to 30 yards (27m).
The key to making this shot, as I’ve explained in my golf tips, is hitting the sand about 1 to 2 inches behind the ball, throwing the sand forward with the ball. For longer shots the only thing that changes is the swing’s length. Rhythm and tempo remain the same.
Below are 5 points I cover in my golf lessons on bunker technique. They’re the focus of my golf instruction once I’ve reviewed how a wedge works and the fundamentals of stance and posture.
1. Move Arms Away in Unison
Having taken a slightly open stance, resist the temptation to get too steep early in the takeaway. Keep the wrists passive as you sweep the club away. Try to synchronize the arm swing and body turn. In other words, make the first part of the takeaway a one-piece movement. Also, make sure the club head follows the path away from the ball parallel to the line of your toes.
2. Rotate and Open
Rotate your left arm and wrists as the swing continues, as if you were looking at a wristwatch. It’s a visual I often use in my golf instruction to help players remember to make the move. It opens the club face and helps maximize the bounce effect on the sand wedge at impact. Also, start hinging your wrists as the club head passes your right thigh. Keep your head still, turn the left shoulder in under the chin, and turn your back to the target.
3. Turn to the Top
As your body turns, you should feel as if your club head is pointing toward the sky and your wrists are cocked. Keep your head and body centered over the over the ball. Swing the club down on a slightly flatter plane, with good rhythm and tempo, as always. This is a key move any time you swing a club.
4. Make the Right Contact
Hitting the right impact point is critical when playing from the sand. In golf lessons I tell students to visualize the ball sitting on top of a tee instead of the sand, then focus on clipping the tee beneath the ball, which just happens to get in the swing’s way. Executed properly, this move will throw the ball out of the bunker with just the right amount of sand.
5. Create a Controlled Explosion
As the club comes down in the downswing, you should feel your hands drag left, pulling them across the ball through impact. Make sure that your right hand doesn’t cross over the left and that you clear your left hip as the club comes through. If the stance and club head are open sufficiently, the ball will fly straight, with a high trajectory.
Of course, the technique for longer bunker shots differs slightly. The key with longer shots is in the follow-through. Use a full finish for long bunker shots, and a short finish for shorter bunker shots.
Below are two exercises that I use in golf lessons to help students improve their bunker technique:
• This exercise establishes how the sand wedge should really work. Stand in a practice bunker without a ball. Adopt your normal bunker stance and take several swings down into the sand. The object is to get the feel of the clubhead dragging through the sand, not digging into it. After a dozen shots, try hitting a ball. Pick out a spot where you want the ball to land and then go for it. Repeat the exercise until you’re comfortable with the feel of the wedge splashing through the sand.
• Focusing on a spot where the club head hits can divert attention from where it emerges, resulting in a fluffed shot. The “Two Lines” exercise helps eliminate the tendency to lose focus. Stand in a bunker and take your normal bunker stance. Draw two lines in the sand about 6 to 7 inches apart.
The lines represent the length of the sand you should carve from under the ball. Line up several balls between the two lines then hit them. The club head should enter the sand where the first line is and emerge where the second line is.
Practicing these two exercises while keeping the 5 points in mind will help build better bunker technique. As you become more and more comfortable with hitting out of a bunker, you will increase your self-confidence. And that, as I often tell my students, leads to better play and lower golf handicaps.