Bunkers, Think Exit Not Enter

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So many golfers struggle with bunker shots.  Greenside bunkers cause even some low handicap players to worry, get anxious when they see their ball enter a bunker.  Let’s spend a few minutes in this issue describing the basics of the bunker shot and where you may be running into trouble.

A greenside bunker shot is played by splashing a relatively small amount of sand that the ball is sitting on towards the target.  The amount of sand is where people tend to get into trouble.  Taking too much sand can slow down the speed the ball has coming out of the sand.  In this case the ball will tend not to travel far enough, end up landing short of the target and in some cases remain in the bunker.  On the other side, too little sand and the ball comes out fast, sometimes too fast and the ball travels too far.

I often see a sort of hybrid of these two issues.  There is one sound you never want to hear when playing a greenside bunker shot, the click.  When you hear the club hitting the ball in a greenside bunker, the result is almost always a disaster.  The ball goes careening over the green.  The shot that was supposed to go 45-feet ends up 45-yards away and a double bogie is looming.  How you interpret this shot may hold the key to avoiding it.  I see this shot and hear the player say, “I missed the sand” or “I hit the ball first.”  This is seldom the case.  The majority of the time I see a player hit the shot they in fact got the club into the sand too SOON.  The problem here is that the club gets into the sand so early that it is leaving the sand when it reaches the ball.  The club is out of the sand, hits the golf ball and frustration ensues.

In good bunker conditions, I encourage my golfers to take an 8 to 10-inch divot.  Enter the sand 4-inches behind the ball and have the club leave the sand 4-inches in front of where the ball was.  It is important in loose or fluffy sand that the divot be shallow rather than deep.  So in fluffy sand you are looking for a long shallow divot.  Think of a divot that is no deeper than a deck of cards.  This is achieved by making a ling slow swing with emphasis on the arms being passive and making good body rotations through the swing.  As the sand becomes firmer the divot will become shorter.  There is not as much loose material in the bunker so you will not be moving as much.  Hence, the less sand we take, the faster the ball comes out.  While fluffy sand will require a long, slow, wide swings, in firmer sand you will be best to make a shorter more up tempo swing.

One final tip that I have had success with for many students is to focus on where the club will enter the sand rather than exit.  As mentioned earlier, I often see the club enter the sand too soon.  Putting the emphasis on where the club enters will often cause the arms and hands to slam the club down towards the sand.  The club is traveling steeply and gets into the sand early.  If the is the case, moving your focus to where the club will exit the sand (4-inches in front of the ball) will help to shallow out your swing, shallow out the divot and get that club working more forward during the swing.  Give it a try!