RBC Heritage

Harbour Town Golf Links

Short Game

Rickie Fowler: How I Handle Any Bunker Shot

December 06, 2016

Here at the Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Fla., I'm in a steep-face pot bunker. Most golfers associate these hazards with Scotland and Ireland, but we have synthetic ones at this club. Instead of bricked layers of sod that can melt in a muggy climate, the face of this bunker is built with strips of artificial turf. Only up close can you tell they're not real. (As a member here, I've had this view more times than I care to admit.) Tough as they are, these bunkers have forced me to perfect a few techniques for extreme situations. Learn them, and you'll gain the confidence to handle any bunker at your course.

“Crazy tall lip? Open the face and drop your hands back to clear it.”

Maybe you're agitated because you just made a bad swing or it feels like an unlucky break, but the worst thing you can do is let negative emotion carry into a difficult bunker shot. Hate the sand or the moment, and you'll tend to rush and make matters worse. Instead, laugh a little inside about your situation. Then embrace the chance to hit a memorable shot. Obvious as this might sound, attitude separates more players than talent in this game.

Sometimes the issue is, you're not even sure how to stand. Your only options are to put one or both feet outside the bunker or maybe take a knee. Whatever the case, just try to get as centered as possible. Where does your torso need to be so that your hands can hang directly over the ball? If the ball is far below my feet, like it is on this shot (below), I grip the club as long as it can be. If the ball were above my feet, I'd slide my hands down the grip. Also, gravity wants to pull me down the slope on this shot, so I sink a lot of weight into my knees and rear end to stay balanced as I find my footing. Standing extra wide, you won't be able to put much leg action into the shot, but resist the urge to swing harder with your arms. Swinging out of control will make you fall victim to gravity and hit the shot thin or way too fat.


To clear a ridiculously tall lip, remember two setup keys: (1) Open the clubface as far as it will go before taking your grip. I see a lot of amateurs get confused here. I hold the club lightly in my right hand first, let the face fall open, then I put my left hand on the top of the grip; (2) Drop the hands back, away from the target. This adds even more loft. Once you're set up properly, it's really all about speed. Take a full swing, sliding the club under the ball. On the follow-through, keep the clubface pointing to the sky. Hopefully you'll see the ball up in the air, too.

OK, maybe you got really screwed. On top of everything else, your ball is buried so only the top half is visible. Time to swing hard. I mean really hard. Play it in the middle of your stance, come down steep and enter the sand about an inch behind the ball. You won't make much of a follow-through, but if you keep the face open, the ball should pop out. Now go sink the putt.

“Accept that awkward lies happen. The biggest thing to control is how you react.”