4 different shots with four different clubs from greenside sand
Bunkers are the only place on the golf course where youre not always required to hit it perfectly. Its okay—even encouraged—that you sometimes hit it fat, hold the face open through impact and minimize your weight shift and rotation. So why, then, are golfers terrified of what seemingly should be one of golfs easier shots? Astonishingly, the top player on the PGA Tour through 20 rounds of golf this year—Luke Donald—has nearly a 90 percent success rate from the sand. Theres no reason you cant be at least half that good.
Ive concluded that its not the sand thats the problem; rather most golfers just dont understand the basic principles behind how the ball is going to react in a bunker. Will the ball pop out with a high or low trajectory? Will it roll on the green or check up and stop? Do I have to swing hard or soft? These are the kinds of questions I hear most from golfers who havent a clue on what to expect, how to swing and what club to use from the sand.
The first step to taking the guesswork out of bunkers is to first and always analyze the situation and then decide what club to use and what shot you need to execute. Most amateurs do those steps in the exact reverse. They grab their sand wedge, address the ball and then decide what needs to be done. Sound familiar? If so, we need to change your routine.
Lets take a look at four different bunker shots with four different clubs, each designed to produce a different result from a different situation. Pay attention to what situation directs what kind of shot to hit, as opposed to allowing your shot to dictate your situation.
Putt It Out
Sometimes the best way to get out of a bunker is to not hit the ball at all. Try putting it instead. Like all shots from the bunker, you must first assess the situation and determine if the putter is the right choice.
Using a putter (the good ol Texas wedge) to escape a greenside bunker should only be attempted if the sand in the bunker is firm, the lie is decent (not buried) and the bunker itself doesnt feature a lip, or if it does, a very small lip with a rounded edge. If you try this shot without each of these conditions being met, be ready to hit two shots from the same place.
From your clean lie, address the ball as you normally would with a putter on the green, with your weight centered over both feet and with your standard putting grip. Play the ball back in your stance, which will help prevent touching the sand through impact. In this situation, unlike other bunker shots, the key is to catch all ball and no sand, so plan on striking the upper hemisphere of the golf ball with the putterface. Expect the ball to roll much like it would on the green and then pop over the lip. Because youll be hitting all ball and no sand, and the ball may pop up when it hits the lip, dont be afraid to hit this shot harder than you would a normal putt from this distance. The off-center strike and spin from the hop will reduce the speed of the ball, so give it a good hit. With a little practice, youll find that this shot reigns supreme and nearly takes out all the guesswork from low-lipped bunker shots.
If you find yourself in a bunker with a medium-sized lip, in firm to medium sand with some green to work with, this shot is an absolute lifesaver. There are three reasons why I prefer this shot to a standard bunker blast from this position: 1) It gets the ball rolling on the ground quicker than does the play with a sand wedge, and its always easier to control distance and accuracy when the ball is on the ground than when its in the air; 2) Its more difficult to know exactly how far to fly the ball to get it close to the pin than it is to simply get it moving along the putting surface; 3) It does not require sand-first contact—a tricky play for most high-handicappers.
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