RBC Heritage

Harbour Town Golf Links

Short Game

5-Minute Clinic: The Basics Of Bunker Play

By Jared Zak Photos by J.D. Cuban
August 18, 2016

Most golfers don't have a clear concept of how they're supposed to swing in the sand. And the shots they hit don't help—fat, then thin, then fat, and so on. How on earth would they know what kind of swing to make? The good news is, once you hit a few bunker shots correctly, the light goes on. One overall mistake I see is trying to guide the club too much, which takes the athleticism out of the shot. Whether you're in a fairway bunker or greenside— or facing a nasty 50-yarder—let's get you in a good setup so you can make an athletic motion. —with Peter Morrice


Set up like a tee shot

The big key from a fairway bunker is ball position. You want to make a sweeping swing, not a chop, so play the ball well forward in your stance.

Assuming your lie is good, set up like you do with a driver: wide stance and ball below your front shoulder (above). Digging in your feet will only make you hit behind the ball and chunk it. From that good setup, make a three-quarter swing, maintaining your posture all the way through impact.

A good swing thought is, Stay tall. Don't try to go down and get it at impact. A controlled swing from a tall posture will give you the sweep you want.


Learn to turn through

Here's an exercise for grooving the basic motion out of greenside sand. Without a club, take your setup in a bunker, extend your left arm toward the target and hold your right palm up (above). Swing your right arm back by folding the elbow, then go through and try to connect your right hand to your left hand. You'll see you have to turn your body through, otherwise your right hand won't reach far enough. So turn and extend that right arm—same as in a real shot.


Aim the loft at the target

You know you need loft on greenside-bunker shots. You also need bounce, so the heavy back edge of the club can slide through the sand and prevent digging.

To put these forces to work, golfers are told to open the clubface at address. But when they do, they aim the loft on the face too far to the right (above left). That looks strange, so they try to swing left through impact to compensate.

A better way to add loft and bounce is to lower your hands at address, which flattens the shaft and keeps the face aimed at the target (above right). Try it.


Keep some flex in your legs

When golfers try to help the ball out, they hang back on the right foot and straighten the left leg. That causes them to hit too far behind the ball or skull it on the upswing.

Here's a great swing thought in greenside bunkers: Turn into a bent left leg. That will keep you in posture as you swing through and will position the low point of the swing in the forward half of your stance. Now just make sure the ball is in the right place: a couple inches inside your front heel. With the ball up, turn through and thump the sand with your right arm (above). You'll hit sweet shots.


The Stacy Lewis Special

I learned this technique secondhand from Stacy Lewis on the LPGA Tour. It makes the toughest shot in golf much easier. The gist of it is, you need to catch the ball cleanly to hit it 50 yards from the sand.

Again, it's all about the setup. Using your sand wedge, open the face and position the ball way up in your stance—opposite your front heel (below). Set your weight 50/50, and don't lean the shaft toward the target. Try to pick it clean off the sand. With this setup, you have enough loft and bounce that you can even hit behind it and produce a good shot. You won't dig. The ball comes out low and checks. Good one, Stacy!