124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2

Sand saves

One of golf's best bunker players says this sand key is 'really important'

January 13, 2023
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Put a wedge in his hands and Luke Donald is a magician.

It was an elite skill born out of necessity. Never the longest or straightest ball striker around, Donald learned to make it work by learning to get up-and-down from everywhere. He became one of the best wedge players ever in the process and rose to World No. 1 along the way.

In his Golf Digest Schools series (which you can check out here), Donald shared a host of his short-game secrets. There's great stuff littered throughout, but I particularly enjoyed some of the advice about bunker shots. One thing he kept coming back to throughout was the concept of bounce. Bounce, in a nutshell, is the width of the soul of your club, and it plays a huge role in how your club interacts with the turf or sand. Amateur golfers generally do well with more bounce, because clubs with less bounce tend to dig more.

And in the bunker, Donald says, using the bounce is key.

"The most important part of bunker shots is making sure you use the bounce effectively," he says. "Making sure the back edge of the club is hitting the sand first ... it's really important."

Here's his advice on how you can do it.

1. Set the clubface open before taking your grip


What makes bunker shots so difficult is that it requires a drastically different technique from all your other shots. Everywhere else from tee-to-green, the goal is to set up with your clubface square. On bunker shots, it needs to be open so the ball can float out high, soft — and yes, so you can expose the bounce of your club.

It's so important that Donald recommends opening the clubface wide open first, and then taking your grip. If you try to grip first like you ordinarily do, then open the clubface, you're never going to be able to open the clubface enough. So, remember: Clubface open first, then grip.

2. Lean the shaft away from the target

Opening the clubface will help with this, but that's still not enough. To really take advantage of the bounce of your wedge, Donald says to lean the shaft away from the target at setup.

"You really don't want that shaft to be leaning forward," Donald says. "You never want that front edge digging in ... you'll struggle to get out of the bunker every time."


3. Keep the club wide on the downswing

Once you do that, make sure the clubhead hits the sand before the ball, Donald says. His feeling for doing that is feeling like the clubhead stays wide during the swing and eventually passes his hands through the ball so it re-hingers.

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4. Practice dumping sand

A great drill to practice all this, Donald says, doesn't even involve hitting a golf ball. Load up the clubface of your wedge with a bunch of sand, then make some swings stopping at the top of your backswing. If the sand falls off before then, you're closing the clubface too much and too soon.

Again, you can check out the full series here.