Spending a day on the beach sounds like fun this summer, that is, unless you’re on the golf course.
For many golfers, sand traps (aka bunkers) can be downright intimidating. From navigating a shifty playing surface to swinging the golf club a bit differently, there’s a lot that goes into coordinating the proper escape from a bunker.
Naturally, the easiest way to get out of a bunker is to avoid it in the first place. But a few tips can turn a golfer’s least favorite short game shot into one of their best. Let’s start with those pesky bunkers around the putting green. To hit better greenside bunker shots, golfers just need to think AWOL.
The first swing thought to properly learn how to hit a bunker shot is acceleration. The best golfers in the world generate speed when hitting bunker shots. The moment a player’s foot comes off the gas pedal is when a par-save turns into a bogey blunder or worse. Why? Because your goal is to hit the sand, not the ball. What you say? Yep, the sand carries the ball out of the bunker, so proper speed is critical.
Here’s a great drill to get the feel of it. Find a spot in the practice bunker and draw a line in the sand with your wedge (or finger) perpendicular to your target. No ball is necessary at this point. Working your way from left to right make aggressive swings with the focus on hitting the line in the sand. The goal is to hear a nice “slap” sound when your golf club hits the sand. If the sound is dull, add some speed to your swing.
After completing that exercise a few times, draw a new line and place golf balls two to three inches in front of it toward the target. Still, attempt to only strike the line, not the ball, and you’ll soon feel the club cut through the sand as the ball is gently lifted out and onto the green. Just make sure to warn the golfers on the other side of the practice green some might be coming out hot!
The next step in hitting a proper bunker shot is to focus on weight distribution. Great bunker players keep most of their weight on their front foot. The reason? If you fall back on a bunker shot, the angle of the club at impact becomes shallow catching the ball thin, sending it flying into the next zip code.
To avoid that infamous walk of shame across the green, try practicing your bunker shots on one foot. Yep, you heard that right. If you want to keep your weight on one foot, why not eliminate the other foot altogether?
No drastic measures for this drill, simply address the golf ball, shift all your weight to your front foot, and place your back foot just behind your body with it even lightly touching the sand. Make a few practice swings to get the feel of keeping your weight forward, then throw a few golf balls into the bunker. Make it a game by rewarding yourself with a point if your weight stays forward or subtracting a point if you fall back. Keep track of your daily point totals and use it to measure your progress.
(O) Open Face
The common sand wedge is designed with 56 degrees of loft, which is great for approaching the green from the fairway, but more loft is needed to get out of a bunker. For this short game shot, golfers need to lay the club face completely open, almost directly to the sky, to maximize height.
A great tip is to open the club face and then grip the club, not the other way around. Once you’ve opened the face on your sand wedge, focus on keeping the clubface pointed straight up throughout the swing. A common mistake is shutting the club face on the backswing, negating the loft of the wedge. When a clubface is open, it will do the work for you, gliding through the sand, generating spin and producing a higher ball that will hopefully land like the proverbial “butterfly with sore feet” next to the pin.
(L) Location of the Golf Ball
The last step in learning how to hit a bunker shot is correctly positioning the ball in your stance.
For bunker shots, the golf ball should be played off the inside of the front heel. Too far in front and your swing path with shallow out resulting in a thin strike. Too far in back and your weight will transfer behind the ball and hit it fat. As you can see, ball location is critical if you want to escape the bunker on your first shot.
A great ball-location drill for bunker shots is to draw a line perpendicular to your target, place a golf ball on the line, and take your stance so that your front foot is just over the line. Visual aids are a golfer’s best friend, so make the most of them.