Short Game

Make Bunker Shots Fun Again

Matt-Killen- JB-Holmes-bunker-shot.jpg

Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images

February 09, 2018

Most kids I know love hitting bunker shots. They think there's something really cool about making this big swing, splashing the sand everywhere, and getting the ball to magically float onto the green. When adults step into a bunker, I don't see the same joy. I do see tension, fear and anxiousness—but it doesn't have to be that way. You can make bunker play fun again if you follow the technique of a player I coach, PGA Tour pro J.B. Holmes. Like a lot of the game's best players, J.B. has zero fear of bunker shots. He knows it's actually one of the easiest shots in golf if you remember these steps. —With Ron Kaspriske

1.) Evaluate the lie. Is the sand firm or soft? Is the ball sitting up or slightly buried? If it's sitting up and the sand is soft, skip to step No. 2. If it's firm sand and/or the ball is sitting down, address it with the clubface of your wedge square to the target. This will help you dig into the firm sand a little, so the leading edge doesn't skip off the surface and blade the ball into the lip of the bunker.

2.) For decent lies, address the ball with the face open (think more skyward). This allows the club to glide through the sand under the ball. You want 60 percent of your weight supported by your lead foot with your sternum aligned with the ball. Also, check your shoulders. If your lead shoulder is too high, you risk poor contact. You should be able to touch your left knee with your left hand.

3.) As you take the club back, keep the majority of your weight on your front foot, and leave the clubface open by letting your lead wrist cup a little. As you swing to the top, keep your left shoulder at the height it was at address. Don't let it rise.

4.) The downswing is simple. Your goal is to make sure the clubhead is moving faster than the handle. J.B. focuses on that. If the handle is moving faster, you'll dig too deeply into the sand or shift to your back foot to try to avoid digging. Either way, you probably won't like the outcome. Instead, keep your weight forward, left shoulder down, head stationary, and let the clubhead pass the hands as it enters the sand about an inch or two behind the ball. Then smile at the result.

Matt Killen, a Golf Digest Best Young Teacher, works with Holmes, Justin Thomas, Bud Cauley and Blayne Barber on the PGA Tour.