A Bunker Technique That Works - Part 3
Part 3 – Executing The Swing
This is the final installment of examining a bunker technique that works (Part 1, Part 2). We began by exploring what your expectations should be when you find yourself in the bunker, and Tuesday I shared the basic building blocks of getting yourself in the right starting position. So today, let’s get into the execution of the swing itself.
The bunker shot can be de-mystified if you will apply these building blocks and go to the practice bunker and get used to them. My suggestion is to forget actually hitting balls for a little while and just practice your technique, learning how to “splash” the sand with the sole of the sand wedge. Go find yourself a practice bunker (or a playground sand box) and set up like I just explained, with your grid marked in the sand. Once you have your posture and alignment correctly set to the left of the target line, and the ball in its correct position, reach down and move the ball away.
You’ll have one mark in the sand where the ball was and another where you had laid your sand wedge behind it. As you get ready to practice swinging, hover your sand wedge behind the spot it made in the sand, not the spot where the ball was. That spot becomes the “new ball”, so your club has to be behind that spot.
The keys to bunker success:
Once you have the proper set up and ball position, there are a couple of other keys to bunker success.
The first of these is to properly open the face of the sand wedge, and from the golfers I observe, this isn’t really understood by many. When I say “open the face”, I mean that the club has to be rotated in your hands so that the leading edge point 30* or more to the right. You can’t achieve this by rotating the hands – you have to grip the club with the face in this position. In the photos, you’ll see that the grip is visibly rotated to the right in my hands – this ensures that the face will stay laid open throughout the swing.
The second key to bunker success is to work S-L-O-W-L-Y. Keep your swing pace almost lazy. That allows you to rotate your body core back and through, while ensuring that your arms and hands lead the clubhead through impact. This is critical. So let’s get to the swing.
With the clubface open, hover the clubhead at address just behind the mark on the target line that was made when you laid the sand wedge down. Focus your eyes on that spot, not the ball!
The swing itself is “low and slow” – your goal is to make a shallow swing path so the club doesn’t dig into the sand. Keep the hands “quiet” (minimal wrist break) and set up with your arms hanging naturally from your shoulders; then try to return them through this position as you come through impact. Make a S-L-O-W backswing into a half swing position, and with your S-L-O-W tempo, bring your body core, arms and then the club through the ball, “splashing” the sand where you were looking. Remember that your swing is along the body alignment line, which points about 30 degrees left of the target line. DO NOT SWING DOWN THE TARGET LINE, BUT ALONG THE BODY ALIGNMENT LINE.
Practice this “splashing” swing over and over, without a ball in place. Rake sand back into your spot after each swing, and keep doing it until you get a good feel for how to make this effortless “splash”. Grip the wedge lightly and focus on the feel of the clubhead making contact with the sand. You should not feel the leading edge dig in at all, but rather, you should feel the trailing edge of the sole literally “splash” out of the sand, much like if you were skipping a smooth stone across a pond.
That’s the bunker shot – de-mystified – and once you get the feel, you can put the ball back into the equation.
When you start hitting actual shots, do not expect the first shot (or second, third, etc.) to be perfect. But when you do begin to execute properly, you’ll find that the ball reacts to the angle of the face, not the swing path, and pops out along the target line, floating up with some spin. In the early stages, do not worry about distance the ball flies – learn the technique and the feel of the wedge splashing the sand. You’ll find that the sand produces less resistance than you might think, because your path is shallow and does not dig a deep hole.
And there’s one more fundamental here that is critical. You have set up your body along a line that is pointed well left of the flag or target spot. So, of all things, please, please, please . . . do not look at the flag as your target, but focus your mind on a spot you’ve picked out to the left of the flag!
If you look repeatedly at the flag, it will “psyche you out” and you’ll end up making an inside out swing to try to take the club down that visual line. You’ll force your hands away from your body toward that visual target and more likely than not, you will catch the ball “right in the eyebrows”.
For a good bunker shot, you must make your swing along your open body alignment, so you have to focus your eyes on that target line. This is a must for good execution.
Oh, and I’ll leave you with this one tip. Before each round, include a few bunker shots in your warm up routine if at all possible, as it sets the tone for your tempo for the day.
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Tim Horan says:
As an aside to this, and before I get rinsed for promoting Eidolon wedges; I have been experimenting with differing lengths of bunker shot, and this will depend entirely on how far below the lip you are, using the full range of wedges (48,52,56 and 60). With most wedges anything other than the sand wedge and perhaps the lob wedge you cannot lay the the face open enough without the risk of blading the shot and are left with the option of picking the ball off the top. With the dual bounce that Eidolon have you can get a full range of distances, trajectories, check and roll-out from one basic swing set-up just changing the club in hand.
Frankie C says:
Surprising how many courses have no sand area at the practice range,
Good words. I assume this works on "normal" sandtraps with "normal" sand. What adjustments need to be made for "plugged" lies, tight lies with compact sand, etc.? I live in Hawaii where the sand is thick and firm, and usually covers a hard pan one to two inches down.
Best explanation of sand play I have ever seen. I am a 7 handicap and while I had reasonable success out of traps, I was never very confident especially on the shorter shorts. Your advice to swing easy in tempo and focusing on a spot to the left of target was right on. I have played twice since reading the article and am 5 for 5 (3 with the 56 and 2 with the 60) with the longest putt at 3 ft. I have 2 sets of Eidolon wedges, 1 set for my permanent home in MN and 1 set for a second home in FL and they are the best wedges I have ever owned. I am 60 years. I haven't had a chance to practice but am looking forward to working with my 52 & 48 for longer shots (per Tim Horans' comments). I am spending the holiday weekend in FL where I can utilize the PGA Learning Center at PGA Village to practice.
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