How to improve your bunker game

Sand bunkers have always been a constant on golf courses,  from the very old to the newly built. Whether they’re the fluffy sand bunkers in California or the wet, pot bunkers of England, getting out of the sand and onto the green is a necessity to shooting lower scores.

Many players dread hitting out of bunkers because they don’t know the best ways to do it–whether it’s because their swing path is incorrect, or set-up inconsistent.

Let’s have a look at how we can improve your bunker game…

Step 1: Choose the right club

If you short-side yourself in a greenside bunker (meaning you don’t have a lot of green to work with), you want to pick a high-lofted wedge, like a 60 degree lob wedge. The ball will not roll out as much. If you have some green to work with, you want a lower lofted wedge, such as a sand wedge (56 degrees) or a gap wedge (around 52 degrees).

Step 2: Take the Right Set Up

The right set up is the key to hitting an effective shot from the bunker. First, dig in: twist your feet into the sand. Having a good base for the shot is vital–you get a feel for how deep the sand is around your shot.

For most sand shots you face, you want to play the ball off your front foot. The farther you move the ball back, the lower trajectory the ball will take, and the more it will run out. This can be useful with some shots, but as a general rule, play the ball off your front foot. Keep in mind this is NOT a pitch and run. The shot is intentionally going to have backspin.

Next, open your stance, as well as the clubface. This is very important. This promotes a higher, softer ball flight and allows a good angle for the clubface to slide under the ball.

Finally, you need your weight on your front foot. The weight should be about 70%-30% in favor of the front foot. This is vital as it causes a steep decent, creating the splash of sand (the digging) and backspin characteristic of a good bunker shot.

Step 3: The swing

Now that you are dug in, with the ball forward in your stance, your weight on your front foot, and with your stance and clubface slightly open, it’s time to pull the trigger. You want an outside-in swing path with a slight wrist hinge at the top. How far back your swing goes depends on how far you want the ball to fly. This swing path gets the ball to come out high and soft, and with the maximum control. You will need to practice this until it feels natural and to judge the yardages correctly.

Step 4: The follow through

You must follow through and stay down longer on sand shots. If you decelerate or stop at impact, you chunk it. In a greenside bunker, you want to splash the ball out, and to do that you must have a steep swing and a high follow through. If you come up on it too soon, you’ll catch the shot thin and blade it. Don’t be afraid to take a slightly bigger swing; you are taking sand with the shot. It won’t go as far.

Once you are confident in your greenside sand shots, it’s time to get a little more technical. Two kinds of sand shots we commonly face on the course are the medium-length sand shots (the 25-45 yard shot to the green), and the plugged ball. These are two of the hardest shots in golf, but don’t be afraid of them. You hit them exactly like normal greenside shots, with only slight variations.


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The 20-25 yard bunker shot

Golf course architects love the longer bunker shots and the challenges they pose. They are very difficult shots to judge correctly, but there is a very simple way to handle them: hit more club.

Take a greenside set up and swing, but instead of a sand wedge, take a pitching wedge or low iron, and take a fuller swing. You still want to hit an inch behind the ball and get that splash out of the bunker; the greatest misconception about longer bunker shots is that you have to hit ball first with these kinds of shots. While this is one way to play the shot–depending on the length and lie–it is often very difficult to pick the ball completely clean. Many golfers either chunk it or blade it with no control, when trying to pick it clean. By taking more club, you can have? a comfortable swing and not worry about hitting the ball absolutely perfectly. Other than taking more club, everything else is the same as a greenside bunker shot. If you need a little more length, you can square the clubface, and the ball will fly slightly further, with a lower trajectory. As long as you set up like you would for a greenside shot, all you need on these longer shots is more club.

Now you have all the techniques needed to improve your bunker game, I’m sure you will start shooting lower scores.

Who do you think is the best bunker player currently in golf? I would personally say Phil (lefty) Mickelson.