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Forward-thinking will help your greenside sand play

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DAVID ARMITAGE, a Golf Digest Best Teacher in Florida, is director of instruction at the Shell Bay Club in Hallandale Beach, Fla. Photographs by Dom Furore

When discussing technique to get a ball out of a greenside bunker, instruction almost always focuses on where the club enters the sand behind the ball. If you’re fixated on the point of contact and not much else, there’s a good chance you won’t generate enough of a swing to move the ball the necessary distance.

If you’d like to get your ball on the green and give yourself a chance to hole the ensuing putt, it would probably serve you better to think more about what happens after impact. Leaving a bunker shot pin-high (or any shot for that matter) should always be one of your main goals, and that depends on how the club gets through the sand. Let me help improve your technique and perhaps alter your thinking about how to approach these shots. —WITH RON KASPRISKE

START BY CONSIDERING YOUR MIND-SET

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Focus on three things in a bunker—speed, loft and sand. Speed refers to how much of a swing you need to get the ball on the green. A good rule: Swing with three times the normal amount of energy—i.e., a 30-yard swing for a 10-yard bunker shot.

Loft matters, too. When you set the club open and take your grip, the more the wedge’s face is skyward, the more you expose the back side of the club—the bounce—making it easier to skim through the sand and hit a shot higher and shorter.

Finally, and this is the one I want you to really think about: How much sand do you want to splash on the green to get the ball to its destination? Remember, the club never actually makes contact with the ball. It moves it out on a pillow of sand. It’s smart to get in a practice bunker and hit shots where you take a little sand, then a lot, and see how the ball reacts to each.

NOW WORK ON TECHNIQUE

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I know I just said to focus on splashing the sand after impact—that’s the mental part. You also need to do a few physical things every time you set up and swing in a bunker. First, don’t play the ball too far forward or back in your stance. Both make it difficult to enter the sand in the ideal spot—about an inch and a half behind the ball. I like to play the ball a touch forward of center. Also, make sure you load onto your front leg and keep your sternum over the ball (above, left). These adjustments help the club enter the sand in the desired spot.

Make a healthy backswing. If it’s too short and/ or jerky, you’ll struggle to create enough energy to get the ball out. Maintain most of your weight on your front leg. This will create an earlier and more pronounced wrist set (above, right), which helps create the correct angle of attack and strike. You’ll slide the club under the ball and hoist it out on a clump of sand. Don’t be shy, go ahead and deposit a good amount on the green!