Handling Plugged Bunker Lies
We received quite a bit of response to the recent series on bunker play, but apparently left you wanting more. This week’s wedge winner is Glenn Hecko, who asked about the tougher lies that you sometimes find when your ball is in the bunker. Specifically, Glenn asked about the various plugged lies – sidehill, downhill and uphill.

A “normal” plugged lie presents a challenge, as you need to make sure the club can get deep enough to extract the ball . . . but the main thing you need to do is relax your expectations. This shot WILL NOT come out as high, nor with as much spin as a normal bunker shot. Your goal is to escape the bunker and leave yourself the opportunity to get down in two shots from there. Here is how I suggest you deal with normal plugged lies:
1. Set a realistic expectation.

2. “Measure” the resistance of the sand when you take your stance. While digging your feet a little deeper to lower your swing plane, take note of the “heaviness” of the sand, so that you can gauge how much swing speed you will need.

3. Play the ball back a little more in your stance to allow for a steeper swing path, and set up more square to your target line.

4. Do not open the face of your wedge, and take either your gap or lob wedge, which is likely to have less bounce than your sand wedge.

5. Pick a spot further behind the ball than for a normal sand shot, and

6. Allow for a lower flight and less spin, so pick the side of the hole that won’t penalize you for that.
Now, back to Glenn’s question, what about when that plugged lie is on a severe slope, either up, side or down? That makes the situation that much more difficult. Here’s how I suggest dealing with each.

First, assess the difficulty of the shot compared to your comfortable skills. If you think you just do not have a reasonably good chance of getting the ball out and where you’d like it to go, think about hitting it away from the flag, either right or left, or even straight backwards, to allow your next shot to be one with which you have confidence. Just like an OB drive has cost you two shots, sometimes a tough lie just has to be reconciled that it has cost you at least one. Your goal is to make sure that doesn’t expand into two or three.

Hitting a tough shot from an awkward stance can turn this into a disaster. The key to such situations is to realistically assess your situation and your skills.
• Can you make your swing path follow the severe up or down slope to give yourself an even-odds chance of hitting the shot correctly?

• Will the severe slope allow your club to work as it was designed, or will the toe or heel make contact in such a way as to practically prevent a good shot?

• Where is the “bail out” area that you think you can play to with more confidence? This is important. You might be better off playing to a spot 40 yards back in the fairway, for example, than to a greenside spot that leaves you a slick downhill pitch that runs toward the water or another bunker.
Once you have chosen a plan, then you can envision the shot at hand and give it a go. Use your imagination about what the sand will do to the club, and therefore how where the ball is likely to exit. These shots don’t have set fundamentals, but make this crazy game what it is – frustrating, maddening, and exhilarating.
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[ comments ]
SingleDigits says:
With a plugged lie in a steep upslope, I've seen & had good success with a hard swing into the sand directly below the ball and leaving the club head in the sand (i.e. no follow through). The ball usually pops up and bounces towards the pin with very little back spin.
jerdman says:
I've had success with plugged balls by closing the face of the wedge. That creates a funnel towards the hozel of the club that will create the lift for the ball. Works close to the lip of the bunker also. Just have to swing down and hard.
Beny says:
I hit the ball usually with a big swing ,the ball goes sloping down the slope ,but due to the spin it don't go much . Hitting from the top of wedge is helpful sometime when you don't want big distances.

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JWHpurist says:
All your statements are correct and a "Good Player" will develop skill and confidence by developing "bad lies" in bunkers and practicing recovery shots until proper skill and feel is acquired. If and when that is done, "The Player will find It Ain't All That Bad"!! It is just another "Tester Shot". JWHpurist
birdieXris says:
I consider myself a relatively good bunker player and i've had these lies. It all depends on the quality of sand for me as to the way i play it. It's textbook above for the medium or "average sand". for more coarse sand, i'll still open my blade a little because the more coarse sand tends to be heavier and almost clay-like about 2 inches down. I got into some stuff at the Club at Morgan Hill though --- i'm not entirely sure it wasn't quicksand. Very fine. The ball hit and instead of being a fried egg or making an explosion, the sand just swallowed it. I almost lost my ball. I could maybe see about a dime sized portion of it through the sand. -- played it the same anyone would. Squared up and swung like a $&#*$&$. didn't get out of the bunker, but at least it was a lie i could deal with. Put it out and made the putt for 4 (par 3). Beware of morgan hill beaches!!
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