Bad fairway bunker shots happen primarily for two reasons: a faulty setup and fear.
For a lot of players, the natural instinct is to try to lift the ball out. As a result, they play the ball way forward and open the clubface to get more loft. Then they try to add speed to get through the sand, so they swing down harder, with a lot of upper-body movement.
You've seen the result. Inconsistent contact—heavy shots, bladed shots, tops. Here's a better plan. Set your feet just wider than your shoulders, and play the ball an inch or two back in your stance. That will help you make descending, ball-first contact. Go ahead and take some sand—after the ball.
Also, use one club more and choke up a half an inch on the grip—not because of the sand but to promote a controlled, three-quarter swing. Keep your feet quiet, and focus on making that crisp downward strike.
As for fear, the best remedy is having some success. Once you see a few good shots, your anxiety will scatter, like sand. —With Matthew Rudy
It's fine to talk about making that clean, descending blow on a fairway bunker shot, but how do you practice it? Try this simple drill.
Stick a tee in the sand so the head is level with the surface, a ball width in front of the ball you're addressing (see video below). Hit practice shots trying to clip the edge of the tee, making contact but not digging it out of the sand. If you bottom out too early, you'll never get close to the tee. This works wonders for players who tend to blade or top shots. You're learning to put the bottom of your swing in the right place.
Shaun Webb is the director of instruction at the David Toms Academy 265 in Shreveport, La.