Golf Lessons: Bunker Shots Washington DC

Bunkers elicit a common reaction from most recreational golfers. That reaction is fear—fear of leaving the ball in the bunker, fear of blasting it over the green, fear of looking foolish, etc.—and it stems from misunderstanding how a sand wedge is designed to function.

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Bunker Escapes

Bunker Escapes

Get Out and Onto The Green

At impact, notice that despite my steep swing and huge divot, my body shows no sign of trying to scoop or lift the ball from its submerged lie. Instead, I’ve hit down and hard behind the sand with a square clubface at impact. To practice this shot yourself, try hitting from a few buried lies in the sand and copy my flat-footed position at impact. It’s a sure sign I didn’t overrotate through the shot and I’m able to dig hard behind the ball. As for the flight, buried lies are unpredictable, so expect just about any ballflight to happen. The key is to excavate the ball from the sand at whatever cost.

The High-Face Bunker Shot


To hit a bunker shot over a high face (or high lip), there has to be enough soft sand under the ball to slide the wedge underneath through the shot. If there isn’t, play the safer shot and bail out over a lowered area of the bunker face. But if you can hit the shot, and the lie is good and the sand feels soft enough, play the ball forward in your stance and open the face to expose the bounce of the wedge. Finally, stand a little farther away from the ball than normal, as this will help make it easier to make a full swing with an inside-out path (a must-do to hold the face open through the hit). As you swing and clip the sand before and under the ball, it’s imperative you keep the clubface open (as it was at address) through the shot. If you close the face, you’ll reduce the loft, and the shot won’t make it over the high face. But with an open face at impact and an open face through the shot, you’ll see it’s a lot easier to pop the ball up and out of the sand.

Low Bunker Shot

Not the most typical shot, unless you need to hit a greenside bunker shot that has some forward roll, the low bunker shot is one that takes a lot of practice. To pull it off, play the ball in the back of middle in your stance, open the clubface and make a flatter swing through the shot. It’s almost a direct opposite of the high-face bunker shot, with this shot requiring you to close the face (almost as if you were hitting a hook) through impact. The ball then flies out of the sand much as an aggressive bump-and-run shot does—with a low trajectory and plenty of forward roll. Again, this isn’t an easy shot, and it requires practice, but you never know when you might need to hit from the sand under a tree or to an uphill pin location on the green.

Uphill Bunker Shot

When faced with an uphill lie in the sand, don’t fret. It’s probably the easiest type of bunker shot around. To hit it effectively, play the ball just as you would a normal bunker shot, only align your shoulders to the slope of the bunker. A...

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Buried, Not Dead

Buried, Not Dead

Buried, Not Dead There aren’t many shots that touring professionals fear, but if you had to choose one, the buried lie bunker shot would probably take the cake. It’s a shot even more feared among amateurs who have no idea how to approach it, let alone how the ball will react off the clubface and once it hits the green. I’ve always believed that a buried lie isn’t a cause for despair, but rather an opportunity to demonstrate your short-game prowess. With some adjustments to the normal bunker setup, you can accomplish the goal of getting out of the bunker and onto the green every time.

Begin by choosing the most lofted club in your bag, which for most is a sand or lob wedge. Set up to the ball with a slightly open stance and with your feet worked into the sand an inch or so for stability. The stance should be narrow (feet shoulder width apart) and your weight should favor the front leg. This helps you hit the ball sharply with a steep blow. Play the ball slightly forward of the middle of your stance and choke down on the shaft to compensate for digging into the sand with your feet.

Sounds like a normal bunker shot so far, right? The difference with a buried lie, however, is that if you open the clubface too much, you actually can hurt your chances of getting the ball out of the sand. Here’s why: When you open the face too much, you add what’s called effective bounce to the sole, thus making it difficult to sweep underneath the ball in order to get it airborne. With an open face angle, you’ll catch the top part of the ball, essentially killing any chance at an easy recovery.

The correct way to address a buried lie in the bunker is with a square or even a slightly closed clubface (relative to the target). What this does is reduce the clubhead’s bounce angle, helping you use the sand between the clubhead and ball to lift the ball up and out. Plan on striking the sand at least two inches behind the golf ball with a steep and accelerating blow. Remember, the club doesn’t need to come into direct contact with the ball. Instead, the digging action of the clubhead as it moves underneath the ball will force the sand to push the ball up and onto the green. Since you’ll be hitting the sand well behind the ball, be sure to swing harder than you normally would if the ball was sitting up. Hold the face square for as long as possible through impact and expect an abbreviated followthrough. You’ll find that the ball will come out of the bunker lower with less backspin, causing the ball to roll forward upon impact with the green.

As you can see in the photo, I’ve not only held the clubface square through impact, I’ve clearly hit the sand before the ball. You can see this by the clump of sand that’s ahead of the ball in the air. Experiment with what face angle, either square or slightly closed, works best for you. Remember to keep the face square and hit down into the sand before the ball with more force than usual. In no time, the buried li...

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Cure Your Bunker Blues

Cure Your Bunker Blues

Cure Your Bunker BluesBunkers elicit a common reaction from most recreational golfers. That reaction is fear—fear of leaving the ball in the bunker, fear of blasting it over the green, fear of looking foolish, etc.—and it stems from misunderstanding how a sand wedge is designed to function.

Look at your sand wedge. Notice how the trailing or back edge of the club is lower than the leading edge. That angle is called bounce and it’s what allows a sand wedge to slide through the sand. To create this sliding action, the back edge must enter the sand before the leading edge, which is designed to dig into the ground.

In order for the trailing edge of your wedge to strike the sand first, your bunker swing must include four essential components. To discover if you’re using the proper technique, try to hit 15- to 20-yard shots from a greenside bunker with a 7-iron. To pull off this shot, your technique will require the critical features of a successful bunker swing, which are as follows.

1. The clubface must be open at address Opening the face effectively exposes the all-important bounce of your sand wedge, which allows it to easily slide under the golf ball. With the 7-iron shot, you’ll need to open the face a good deal in order to create enough height to carry the lip.

2. You must sit down in your stance Get set with most of your weight in your heels, with your stance open to the target line by five to 10 yards.

3. Swing the club on a shallow plane—or more around your body This flatter (compared to steep) swing is what allows the trailing edge of the club to enter the sand first. Your divot should point left of the intended target.

4. Hold the clubface open through impact Don’t release the club—you’ll risk burying the wedge into the side instead of sliding through it. To keep the clubface open through impact, your body must continue to turn. In fact, you must turn until, at the finish, your weight is over your forward foot and the clubface points toward the sky.

Practice shots with your 7-iron until you can successfully blast out of the bunker three of every four shots. Then, try the same shot with your sand wedge, using the same principles. With the sand wedge, you won’t need to open your stance or clubface as much and your swing plane won’t be nearly as flat, since you’ll be standing closer to the golf ball. The best part of the 7-iron drill is that it instills confidence. After all, if you can hit a 7-iron out of a greenside bunker, how easy will it be with a sand wedge?

Rob Stock is an assistant golf professional at Farmington Country Club in Charlottesville, Va., and is a former Dave Pelz Short Game instructor

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