Instruction

Sand Play

Tour-pro spin from bunkers, explained

October 29, 2021

Ben Jared

In the hands of a skilled tour player, a bunker shot looks like magic. Depending on the scenario, it might check up, hop sideways or roll to the hole like a putt.

How do players exercise that kind of ball control, and how do you get some in your sand game? We asked top Illinois instructor Rick Silva to extract teachable moments from six great tour bunker shots and make them relatable for you.

Jordan Spieth: Preview what you want to do

"What you can immediately see here is that Spieth is making the exact practice swing he wants to replicate when he hits the ball," says Silva, who runs Movement 3 Golf in Highland Park. "From the left swing direction to how he's throwing the head to where he wants the club to hit the sand, it's all very intentional. So much of what amateur players do is get in [the bunker], hit hard and hope for something to happen."

“It might take some extra practice, but focus on everything being intentional.”

Brooks Koepka: Emphasize quality contact from fairway bunkers

"From a good lie in fairway sand—and when the lip isn't in your way—your setup basis should mostly be like a shot from the fairway but with a few subtle adjustments to really promote flush contact," says Silva. "Koepka has the face slightly open and the shaft leaning slightly forward, and the ball is a few inches back from standard.

“Those tweaks expose more of the bounce on the sole of the iron and let it glide through the sand—but without changing the club's launch or changing the spin characteristics of the shot."

Viktor Hovland: Stay tall to hit it high

"On a shot like Hovland has here—blind, have to carry a high barrier in front—the tendency for most players is to try to go down after it with a lot of speed," says Silva.

"Speed is important for sure, but you want to keep your posture tall and let the clubhead pass you on the way through the ball. If you try to help the ball up by scooping or digging at it, you'll probably push the handle past your body and take all the loft off the club. It will dig and you'll probably blade it or fat it."

Collin Morikawa: Adjust your setup to get to "neutral"

"The shot Morikawa has here might be the hardest one any player can face—downhill, to a green running away with you, with a compromised stance," says Silva. "So he lowers his center of mass as much as he can to stay stable and athletic, and lowers his hands—which effectively increases the loft of the club.

“With low, forward hands and an open clubface, he's able to hit a high shot over a big lip and get it to come out high and straight."

Rickie Fowler: Move closer as the lie gets worse

"Rickie is conducting a master class in ball control, both accurately predicting the ball would need to land on the fringe to get close and landing it right where he wanted. But the real trick is dealing with a ball that is sitting down in the sand," says Silva.

"He moves the ball slightly back in his stance and has the face open so it doesn't dig, but the biggest change is moving closer to the ball. That has the effect of reducing the amount the heel of the club interacts with the sand, and causes it to dig even less."

Scottie Scheffler: Roll it like a putt

"Tour players see a shot like this—good lie, plenty of green—as chances to hole out, and they're disappointed when they don't," says Silva. "But even good bunker players will often pick the wrong club and shot.

“Instead of using a lob wedge and hitting it to the hole with some sizzle, the better play is to use less loft and glide the wider sole through the sand in a draw swing pattern. It flies lower and rolls more, and Scheffler read the last part of the shot just like he would a long putt."