Players Championship 2024

Players Championship: ‘You got to pick’—Kevin Kisner explains how Xander Schauffele hit one of golf's toughest shots

March 16, 2024

Kevin C. Cox

Unlike the rest of us, tour pros aren't worried about bunker shots—in fact, they often prefer them. Given that they can control the spin on short greenside bunker shots, they are often an easier shot than from the rough.

The lone exception? When you get in that no man’s land, around 40 to 50 yards in the sand, where it’s not quite a greenside shot and it’s not a fairway-bunker shot. It’s widely considered the toughest shot in golf, and Players Championship leader Xander Schauffele was faced with it on the par-5 16th hole at TPC Sawgrass on Saturday.

After finding the rough off the tee, Schauffele missed left on his approach, finding a waste bunker about 45 yards short of the green. Water just behind the hole made the toughest shot in golf even trickier. Luckily for us, NBC analyst Kevin Kisner gave us two ways that we can play the shot.

Less loft and blast

The safest way to play this shot is to play it like a traditional bunker shot, hitting an inch or two behind the ball, but using less loft. “I like to take 8- or 9-irons from this distance and open it way up," Kisner says. "Aim way left. You create more side spin left to right because you’re hitting an open face, almost cut shot."


Mike Ehrmann

As Kisner says, the setup is key with this shot. Since an iron doesn’t have the same forgiving bounce as a wedge, you need to open the face a lot so that it will move easily through the sand. If not, the club will dig too much.

The issue then, is that with the open face, it is pointed way right of your target, so as Kisner says, you need to “aim way left.” You’ll often need to aim even farther left than you think, given the face is so open.

This is the option that Schauffele chose. Notice below how far left of the hole his feet are aimed. Granted, he likely isn’t trying to hit it at the flag, but still, he is aimed way left of where he ultimately wants the ball to go.

The third key to this technique, Kisner says, is to feel like you are swinging out-to-in and hitting a cut. This will help get the club get through the sand smoothly and get the ball up quickly. You can see Schauffele rehearsing this significant cut-shot move before he hits the ball. He is coming out over the top.

After he hit the shot, NBC zoomed in on the club through the impact zone. Notice how Schauffele’s club is sliding across the ball aggressively. “You can see how that club’s working across,” Kisner says, “so keeping the face open, just a big high blast.”

Schauffele hit a decent shot, to about 30 feet short of the hole, but Kisner noted that he took a wedge and not an 8- or 9-iron that he recommended. “I think if he wouldn’ve gone with a little less loft, it would’ve chased out a little bit more,” Kisner says.

Pick it clean

That’s the easiest way to hit the difficult 40-yard bunker shot. If you’re looking to take on a little more risk and hit the flashy shot, stick with your wedge and try to pick the ball clean. “Some guys will play it back [in their stance] and try to catch it clean,” Kisner says.

By playing the ball back in your stance, you are trying to ensure that you will catch the ball first. You’re trying to play the shot like a normal pitch shot, where you hit the ball then the ground. If you hit the sand first here, using this technique, you’ll chunk it. If you catch the ball a little too clean, you’ll blade the shot over the green.

That’s why it’s the risky option. “I wouldn’t be attempting that shot with the water behind it,” Kisner says. Should you pull it off, however, this shot will check up with some spin, unlike the long blast with the 8-iron.

So, the next time you’re faced with a long bunker shot, the choice is yours: safety first with an 8- or 9-iron or try to pick it clean. The key, however, is to make sure you actually pick one or the other and commit to the one you choose. “You got to pick one or two,” Kisner says.