Lesson TeeApril 17, 2013

Hitting Soft Sand Shots

All you need to know is in one little finger

A slight grip change in the sand will add height and control to your shots.

A slight grip change in the sand will add height and control to your shots.

Steep-face bunkers identify who can hit a sand shot and who can't. Anyone can fake it if there's not much of a lip, but when the ball has to come out high and soft, your technique really matters.

All good bunker players have one thing in common: They use the wedge's bounce by letting the clubhead swing past the hands as it moves through the sand. When this happens, the thick rear of the sole skims forward without getting stuck and the clubface slides under the ball, which pops out with height and backspin.

Players who fear the sand tend to grip too tightly, which causes them to pull the grip end of the club aggressively through impact, instead of letting the clubhead swing past it. This makes the wedge's leading edge dig. So you chunk the shot, and the next time you think you have to swing harder. But that only leads to more digging.

Luckily, learning to use the bounce is as easy as removing the pinkie of your top hand from the grip. With this finger off the club, your grip pressure naturally lightens, and it's almost impossible for the hands to stay ahead of the clubhead at the bottom of the swing. I use this tip to teach the right feeling, but you can hit shots like this on the course, too.

Tuck it, drop it, hover the heel

OPTION 1: TUCK IT

Legendary teacher Jimmy Ballard showed me this technique. If you're right-handed, tuck your left pinkie so the nail rests against the grip (above, left). This reduces your ability to grip tightly and yank the club down to the ball; in fact, it allows the clubhead to pass the grip through impact for added loft.

OPTION 2: DROP IT

If tucking the pinkie feels too weird, just curl it over the end of the grip (middle). Now your ring finger is the last finger on. This is just as effective as tucking, because both are based on the same principle: By taking away the pinkie, the club releases more easily, which exposes the bounce and helps the club slide.

BONUS: HOVER THE HEEL

Open the face and address the ball off the heel (right). This might sound like Shank City, but remember, you're hovering the club. When the clubhead enters the sand, it will inch slightly closer to you, putting the center of the face under the ball. The shot will come out more predictably.

JASON CARBONE, a Golf Digest Best Young Teacher, is based at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J.