The Keys To Playing Three Different Bunker Shots
I received a question the other day from a reader in Australia asking about ways to cope with varying conditions in bunkers, such as when the sand is not dry and fluffy, but either packed from rain, or thin sand with a hard base underneath. He asked if I could outline some methods of playing from these kinds of lies. So here goes.
I’ve discussed the fundamentals of bunker play from a typical bunker lie – open the stance about 30 degrees left of your target, open the clubface about 30 degrees right, swing along your body alignment, not the target line, and position the ball forward so that you hit 2-3 inches behind it with a shallow clubhead path. But when you have a more difficult lie . . . one that is far from typical . . . you need to make adjustments to your technique and your swing thoughts. So let’s examine some of the more common difficult bunker lies:
1) Plugged or fried egg lie. With one of these lies, it stands to reason that you are going to have to remove more sand, and make sure the club gets deeper into the sand to get under the ball, which is sitting lower. As you examine the lie, picture the depth the clubhead path will have to take to get fully under the ball. That will allow you to picture the place the club will have to enter the sand. Choose your highest lofted wedge, and DO NOT OPEN THE FACE, as that helps the club come out of the sand, and that’s not what you want. Square the wedge, or even hood it a little, and square up your setup more along the target line. Position the ball a little more back in your stance to help the downward clubhead path. And swing a little harder as you will be moving more sand along with the ball. But keep your tempo slower and more deliberate so that your impact can be precise.
2) Wet or packed sand. This is actually similar in ways to the lie above. In this case the sand is going to “reject” the clubhead more than loose dry sand will, so your club will not dig as deep. Therefore you do not want to open the face as much. Secondly, realize that you do not want to hit quite as far behind the ball as with a normal bunker lie, so pick out a spot a little closer to the back of the ball, say only and inch or two. Your stance is square, like the first lie, but your clubhead path is shallower, as you do not want to dig too deep into the wet sand. And realize that with the sand “rejecting” the club more, you probably do not need to swing as hard.
3) Thin sand over hard base. If you step into the bunker and feel a very thin sand cover over a firm base, approach this shot more like one from a tight lie than a bunker. Set up with the ball toward the center of your stance, rather than forward, and think of the clubhead making contact right on the back of the ball – ball first. The clubhead should be square or only very slightly open if you are looking for higher ball flight. Swing through the shot, and let the club remove sand after impact, and bounce off the firm base below. This shot will come out hotter and with a lower trajectory, but with lots of spin.
The key to these and any bunker shots is to gauge the resistance your club will be getting when it makes contact with the sand. That's your first element of analysis of the shot. Your feet are your guide to what’s under the ball, the texture and weight of the sand. As you step into your setup with any and all bunker shots, really feel the sand as you “dig in”, so that your body and mind can sense what the club will be experiencing.
Please let me know if these tips help you improve your bunker play.
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So, I played a new course yesterday and the sand was very different than what I'm used to. I'm usually not a great bunker player by any means, but yesterday was kind of a reminder of how lost I am when I find the sand.
Well I was driving home last night and thinking about how the whole two inches behind the ball bit obviously doesn't apply in every situation and---I swear---I figured I'd use the ask Terry button again. And lo and behold, I get to work this morning and this is waiting for me.
Also, I listened to the Golf Smarter interview. Very good interview and also a very good podcast. I think anyone that reads this blog regularly would really enjoy it.
Thanks for the bunker play discussion. I managed to hit the one bunker at our club that is thin sand over a hard base both days of the club best-ball tourney. My results were mixed, to say the least. I'll try the new technique my next casual round, when I can drop a ball or two there. Any tips for the 'stopped by a bunker rake, ball on a downslope shot over a high lip to a tight pin?' :-)
Stephen Jones says:
Thank you Terry for answering my question from the other side of the world. I appreciate you making the effort.
It is the wet sand I have the most trouble with and your strategy makes a lot of sense.
I really enjoy your website as you write a lot of common sense.
John, you offer a challenging shot, so let me answer this way. Shoot away from the pin!!! We all face shots during a round of golf where the odds of getting up and down are slim, and the chances of turning the hole into a disaster are very high. In these cases, it is usually a smart move to find a "safe" spot on the green, as much as 30-40 feet from the hole, either right, left or long, and play for it. Leave yourself a long putt, but insure that you are looking at no more than three shots to hole out from the tough lie. Think I'll write a post on this very subject so that I can go into more detail.
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