My technique in greenside bunkers comes courtesy of Butch Harmon. With his advice over the years, I've boiled this shot down to a few easy steps that make getting out of the sand routine for me. I'll share them with you here—and show you my favorite bunker drill.
I posed for these photos at Corona del Mar State Beach in Southern California because I wanted to emphasize that bunker play shouldn't be scary. OK, maybe it's no day at the beach, but you shouldn't feel like getting in the sand sentences you to a double or triple. Here's how I get out. —with Ron Kaspriske
First, let's look at my favorite drill because it helps to understand the geometry of bunker play. The line between my feet represents ball position: just ahead of center. The line behind the ball—where I'm hovering the club—is where I'll contact the sand when I swing. Remember, you want to skim through the sand under the ball. This is the one shot where you don't want direct contact.
The line that looks like the top of the letter T is my target line. Notice my feet are aligned left of my target, but my clubface is pointing right of it. I have to open the face to get the ball up in a hurry and to help the club skim through the sand. A square face would dig too deeply. I'm aligned left to counteract the orientation of the open face. Now I can hit the ball at my target instead of it shooting off to the right. It's also easier to finish the swing from an open stance.
Back to my drill: From a good setup, practice thumping the sand on that line behind the ball and keeping the clubhead moving through. Get a feel for this skimming action without a ball first, then re-draw this practice station and hit actual bunker shots.
HINGE THE CLUB UP
Once you get into a stance where you're aligned left but the clubface is pointing to the right, dig your feet into the sand a little for stability. There's no need to take the club back any farther than you see here, with the left arm about parallel to the ground.
Notice that my left wrist has hinged the club upward and is a little cupped—that's keeping the face open for extra loft. You should take the club back with medium grip pressure because you'll need some strength to skim the club through the sand without losing control of it.
Your goal is to enter the sand about two inches behind the ball. Once you do that, the most important part of bunker technique comes into play: keeping the club moving. Swing down and through, sliding the clubhead right down your target line.
The swing key that's going to help you most in the bunkers is: Keep your speed up. Most amateurs I see let the club slow down or stop as soon as it strikes the sand. Don't be afraid you'll hit this shot too far. Trust that if you swing the clubhead into the sand behind the ball, it'll propel the ball out high and soft and somewhere near the hole. Maybe it'll become a day at the beach after all.
Natalie Gulbis has played the LPGA Tour since 2002 and has almost $5 million in earnings.