It's one of the most menacing short game shots in golf for most average players: The basic, straightforward green side bunker blast. No matter how high or low the lip or how far to the pin, many of us tense up even thinking about escaping from the beach. But it doesn't have to be that way. Basic sand success is achievable quickly and completely with just a few adjustments to grip, stance, alignment and stance. Here's how to become a true master blaster.
How you grip the club greatly influence the type of shot you want to hit. Here are two grip positions. The circled grip is my standard hands position, and the inset photo above shows a faster hands position.
Faster, you ask? Allow me to explain. Typically, when we see a grip as pictured in the inset photo above, we think of it as a "weak grip," since the hands are situated to release sooner and, in terms of full swings, produce weaker shots. In the sand, a weak grip actually can help you hit the ball higher and make the ball stop faster. Just remember, "weak" only applies to the early release of the wrist hinge, not actual grip pressure. Be sure, no matter what type of hand position you choose, you grip the club with enough tension so the wedge doesn't slip in your hands as you make contact with the sand. Experiment and see what works best for you.
1 UNDERSTAND ALIGNMENT
Bunker shots can be awfully counterintuitive. It seems the more you aim left, the more your shots fly to the right. In reality, that's how things are supposed to work, but it's not impossible to hit straight shots. The key is in managing your angles. To keep it simple, consider that for every degree open you rotate your stance, match it with an open clubface. As you do that, situate the target right in between the two angles. From here, be sure to swing along your stance and not right at the target! You'll soon see that your sand shots will fly better.
2 SET UP FOR IMPACT
The setup and impact positions may look similar, but they're actually quite different. At setup, the body should look poised to make a hit, with your weight centered, the club hovering above the sand and the shaft vertical to the ground.
At impact, there are three main differences. First, my weight has transferred to my forward leg. You can't hit great sand shots off your back leg! Second, the shaft is leaning toward the target. This is a must for consistency. In fact, it's the loft of the wedge that will lift the ball, not a lack of shaft lean. And, third, because I need to hit down and into the sand, my knees are flexed more at impact than they were at address. If you can concentrate on making these three differences at impact, you'll see that hitting sand shots is a lot easier.
3 MAKE AN OUTSIDE-IN SWING
Hitting a great sand shot is one of golf's greatest thrills. It's also one of the most satisfying ways to save par or even make a birdie. But unlike shots outside the sand that typically require you to swing parallel to your target line, bunker shots are generally best played with a swing that starts outside the target line and moves to inside the target line.
Why, you ask? The main reason is that, with a typical bunker shot, you want to hold the clubface open longer than you would a normal shot–meaning, in order to hit the ball straight with an open face, you have to swing along the direction of your feet and body, and not toward the target.
If anything, play your next bunker shot as though you wanted to slice it toward the hole. This will instinctively help you both swing from outside the target line to inside the target line, as well as make it easier to hold the clubface open through the sand shot.
Just remember, a good bunker player doesn't try to lift the ball from the sand; rather he or she uses the sand to push the ball up, and the clubhead slides through the sand and under the golf ball.
4 HOLD THE FACE OPEN
Need more proof? Because you swing along your open body line (open relative to the target), you have to keep the clubface open through the shot. It also helps get the ball airborne quickly, as well as imparts more spin for a quicker stop on the green.
That said, how much is too much? Eventually the hands will rotate, and the clubface will close. The key is in maintaining the rotation of your body. The more you rotate through the shot, the easier it is to keep the clubface open through the bunker shot.
Just remember, if your goal is to hit a high bunker shot that stops quickly, the trajectory and bite isn't going to come from flipping your hands through impact. It'll come from an aggressive rotation of the body through the shot with the clubface open.
5 FLAT-FOOTED SHOT
In the sequence above, check out my feet. Notice anything unusual? If you notice my back foot (my right foot), it stays flat-footed through the swing. I do this because first, by keeping a stable footing, I lessen the risk of slipping or sliding through the shot. Second, the more rigid my lower body is, the faster my upper body will rotate across the ball.
Try this technique the next time you're practicing your bunker shots. Allow your weight to shift as it naturally would; just do it with both feet on the ground. I'll bet you'll pick up some upper-body speed in no time.
6 USE SPEED, NOT MUSCLE, TO REACH THE TARGET
Don't dig a hole in the sand. Really, to hit solid shots out of the sand, the more you try to dig deep and use muscle to excavate the ball, the more likely you'll find yourself hitting more than one shot from the same bunker.
The key is to think "speed," not "strength." By thinking speed, you'll be more likely to make a more complete swing through the ball, as opposed to hitting down into the sand as you would in a chopping or hitting motion. And when it comes to speed, for that matter, we're not just talking about the hands. As the previous tip alluded to, good bunker shots require the entire body to get activated and make a rotation. The bigger the body rotation through the shot, the less the hands have to get involved. The less the hands are involved, the easier it is to hold the clubhead open through the shot and the better your bunker shots will be! So think speed, not strength. You'll find that type of mentality will help prevent you from stabbing into the sand and instead swing right through it.
This story was updated May 25, 2016
Bobby Hinds, PGA teaches at Woodley Lakes Golf Course in Van Nuys, Calif. His popularity is attributed to helping players of all ages play their best golf with easy-to-understand principles. For more information, please call (323) 363-7761.