If you're struggling with greenside bunker shots, I'll bet you have misconceptions about two parts of the technique that's commonly taught: opening the clubface and hitting behind the ball.
Opening the face adds loft and bounce, which are critical in the bunkers. You need bounce to glide the clubhead through the sand, and loft is what sends the ball up and out. Many golfers try to open the face by pushing their hands forward at address. This actually takes bounce off the club and can lead to all kinds of bad shots. It also causes the clubface to point to the right.
To compensate for that, you have to make an adjustment with your body, shifting your body lines well left of the target, and then swing the clubhead out to in through the sand.
Instead of all this complication, you can open the face by simply leaning the handle away from the target so your hands are even with or slightly behind the ball at address. This is the best way to expose the bounce and maximize loft because it keeps you in a more neutral setup—and you don't have to swing out to in. With the clubface aimed at the target, you can set up in a square stance, with your feet, hips and shoulders all parallel to the target line. It simplifies the whole process.
As for where to strike the sand, you've probably been told a few inches behind the ball. But that thought often leads to the club touching down too far back, resulting in a chunk (leaving the ball in the bunker) or a skull (the clubhead ricocheting off the sand and into the ball). You want the low point of the swing arc to be under the ball, not behind it. This makes your splash through the sand shallow and, therefore, much more forgiving.
THE BEST BUNKER DRILL
Here's a great way to learn how to get the low point of your swing arc under the ball. Tee a ball so the tee is almost completely buried in the sand and the ball sits even with the surface. Set up in a square stance, with the ball forward of center and the grip pointed toward your belt buckle. From there, make a normal backswing, and try to splash the tee onto the green. This will help you gain control of where the clubhead bottoms out, leading to more consistency in the bunkers.
Matt McLean, 30, one of Golf Digest's Best Young Teachers, is the director of instruction at Fishers Island (N.Y.) Club.