Bunkers are one of the most prevalent obstacles you will encounter when playing golf. A good bunker player sees a bunker and has nothing to fear, while a lousy bunker player sees a bunker and sees jail that will lose a stroke or 2. A bunker does not have to be a hazard or a penalized shot. Some bunkers are meant to be a hazard that is meant to be hard to get out of, but most bunkers are easy to get out of and up and down. A bunker is much easier to predict and get up and down than a heavy rough. You typically know what a bunker is going to do!
So first we need to acknowledge all of the different things a bunker provides over a standard chip or pitch shot. The first difference is that in a greenside bunker you don’t have to hit the ball; typically you should not hit the ball at all. Which intimidates some golfers but makes a bunker shot one of the easiest shots to hit correctly. The second difference is that you can’t touch the ground, but you get to test the ground conditions every time you get in a bunker; that is why most players dig in with their feet. It allows you to understand if the sand is going to be soft and fluffy, if it is deep, if it is hard and compact, or even wet. All of these conditions change the easiest way to hit this shot. Which we will discuss later!
In a bunker, you have specific priorities when hitting the shot. Your first priority is to get out of the bunker. No matter what, your next shot cannot be from that bunker. Your second priority is to get it on the green. It is not as important as number one, but it is the second priority; you must get it out, preferably close. Your third priority is to hit it close to the pin. It's the last priority because it is a bonus. So you always follow your priorities and assess risks based on these priorities. So if the chances of you hitting it out of the bunker if you go for the pin are small, then aim at a different part of the green. If the chances of getting it out of the bunker and onto the green are slim, aim to go out of a different side of the bunker and then get it out. If you follow these priorities, bunkers will never cost you more than 1 shot. All of this can be summarized with, don’t hit the hero shot if there is a chance you leave yourself in the bunker.
Fundamentals of Bunker Shot
There are certain fundamentals of a bunker shot that you should take away from this. These fundamentals will get you out of the bunker every single time. Later we will discuss some of the more advanced techniques to add spin or hit it higher or further, but these fundamentals are crucial to hitting a bunker shot.
- First, establish a good base. Dig into the sand, set your feet, and twist them to dig them further. Take in the information it gives you. How deep is the sand, and how compact is it? Is it wet and compact, dry and packed in, where is the bottom? All of this informs you on how to hit the shot. If the sand is wet, you must hit a little closer to the ball than an inch and come into the ball steeper. If the sand is dry and packed, you will bottom out, so you must hit closer to the ball and come in very shallow. Gather every bit of information that you can.
- Second, you are not making contact with that ball, but that does not mean you aren’t focusing on something. Pick a spot, a grain of sand, about half an inch or an inch behind the ball, and focus on that. You must hit that spot so during your swing only look at that spot.
- Third, Dollar Bills. Focus on taking a divot the size of or smaller than a dollar bill. You do not want to take a big deep divot. You aren’t digging a grave for your golf game just yet, we can still save it.
- Fourth, Finish High. One of the most important things you can do in a bunker to get it out is not to dig into the sand. The sand will stop your club and leave you in the bunker after hitting it way fatter than you wanted. If you force yourself to finish high up out of the sand, it will keep you from hardly moving the ball.
- Fifth, accelerate through the sand. This is vital. Stop taking a giant backswing. Take a smaller controlled backswing, and accelerate through the sand. Always take a smaller backswing than you think you need, forcing you to accelerate through the ball much more!
The setup in a bunker is different from any other shot in golf. You want to take a bit more of a broad stance, knee bend, and weight on the front foot. You need to take an open stance to your target line, and usually, I open the club and regrip from there. That is the standard stance, however, sometimes you have to change your stance in the bunker to match what the bunker gives you. Do not be afraid to be creative. Try all sorts of shots in the practice bunker and make sure you understand what a foot higher in the back or higher in front might do to your shot. Bunkers rarely give a perfect lie, so be ready to have an imperfect lie
The swing on a bunker shot is unlike any other shot you will hit. Because you do not need perfect impact, your goal is to hit it fat, there is a lot you can do to change what kind of bunker shot you are hitting. My advice in a bunker is to go ahead and lift the club almost vertical. This will help you get it up and out of the bunker faster. Of course, you need to come in with a lot of speed because the sand will slow you down. YOU MUST ACCELERATE THROUGH IMPACT!
If the bunker has way too much sand and is super fluffy, your best course of action is to have a ton of bounce. Bounce is the other angle on your wedges that you care about. The more bounce you have, the easier it will be to not dig into the dirt too far and chunk it. Your other option in super fluffy bunkers is to open the club way up and regrip. Just lay the club open, and you add a ton of bounce to it. This will make hitting bunker shots out of a fluffy lie 1000% easier.
Take everything we have spoken about, and ignore it when you have a buried lie. The trick with a buried lie is, you just take your medicine. Get it out anywhere on the green. This ball is going to roll out. There is no adding spin, you just have to blast it out. Swing hard, dig the club deep into the sand, and blast the ball out. Do not finish high on a buried lie. Leave the club in the sand, so you don’t blow the crap out of it.
Spinning Shots Out of the Bunker
Getting a shot to spin more out of the bunkers is easy, but executing it is a lower-chance kind of shot. You must hit a little closer to the ball with a square clubface. So instead of half an inch, try a quarter of an inch and still accelerate through it. You gotta flip the hands and get the club up fast. Because you are hitting a lot closer to the ball with a square face instead of an open face, you are adding a lot of risks. I never add spin unless absolutely necessary.
Long Bunker Shots
One of the most challenging golf shots is the 30-50 yard bunker shot, even up to 60 or 70 yards, anything under a full swing. Do you still play to blast it out? Or are you now playing to pick it out of the sand, so that goes far enough? Players have a hard time deciding, so they are unsure and play to do both, blade it over the green, or hit it fat and leave it short. It is not as complicated as everyone makes it sound. Just club up and hit a standard sand shot. Seriously, that is it. Try hitting a 30 or 40-yard sand shot with a 52 or 50-degree pitching wedge. The result will surprise you. It comes out hot and will have a little less spin, but not much. The trick is to hit about half an inch behind it. It will come out lower, so if you have to get over a lip, be careful. However, you can open the club slightly, regrip, and you will be in good shape.
Fairway bunkers are another challenging part of golf. You shouldn’t fear them too much, though. There are a couple of ways to do fairway bunkers and a couple of rules as well. Rule one, you can hit anything out of a bunker if there are no lips on the bunker. Instead, because of the bunker lip, you usually have to take a shorter iron than you want to. The rules for Fairway bunkers are the same, get it out of the bunker, get it to the fairway, get it to the green, get it on the green, and get it close to the pin. If you cannot with certainty do one of those, go back to a priority. For lips, and making sure that you get over the lip, always look at it honestly and figure out what is the longest club you can get over the lip, never hit that club. Always club down from there. Take a club that goes higher.
There are two techniques to use in a fairway bunker. I use the first. The first technique is to get in the bunker, do not dig in! That makes you want to hit down on it. Take a ¾ swing. Never take a full swing out of the bunker. The ball will spin more out of the sand than off, even the fairway, especially if you hit it clean. Play it thin rather than fat; this will make it come out a little lower, so be careful!
The second technique makes it come out lower and shorter than it usually would from the first method. You dig in, give yourself a solid base, and choke up about an inch or two to compensate for digging in. You still need to take a ¾ swing.
Let's go ahead and talk about grooving your bunker shots. They are tough, you want a base shot though. Get into the practice bunker, and pick a shot, probably a 10 or 15-yard bunker shot. Put on your CTRL Swing Master Sleeve, and go ahead and start hitting your shots. Get ten good shots, go into practice mode, and groove this shot. Once you have this shot, play with it, add a little speed, take it back further, play with whatever you are doing, and just go ahead and understand what happens when you make specific changes. Once you have the same tempo, it gets a lot easier.
Hitting out of a bunker is an art form. There are so many different ways to do it and so many things you can add. Everyone has their techniques, don’t only take mine out. Try different things, and find out what works for you. Always remember, it is an art form; you should find out what works best for you.