Approach Shots

Taking Down Fairway Bunkers

Fairway-bunker shots from 170 yards.

Photo by J.D. Cuban

By Tony Finau Photos by J.D. Cuban
April 12, 2017

The fairway bunker shot I'm playing here took place on the South Course at Torrey Pines in the third round of the Farmers Insurance Open in February. I remember it well because the view is so beautiful—and it turned out great with the ball ending up on the green, about 20 feet below the hole. This shot, on the par-4 fourth, is longer than it looks—a full 170 yards—but it's easier to play than you might think. You can see I have a good lie, the lip isn't too high, and the sand is nice and firm. I played it almost like a normal shot from the fairway, but with a couple of adjustments. When you have a shot like this, here's what to do:

First, take at least one club more. I'm using a 7-iron instead of the 8-iron I'd go with on grass. I'm making a shorter, more controlled swing than usual, and with my feet shifted into the sand, I become effectively shorter than my 6-foot-4 height. You probably need more than a 7-iron for a 170-yard sand shot, but that's OK. The principles are the same no matter what club you choose.

I position the ball just as I would for a shot from the fairway. My stance is a little open, my feet lined up to the left. That promotes a slightly outside-to-in swing path and a steeper angle of approach into the ball to make sure I hit ball first, sand second. Clean contact is a must. The open stance also means less lower-body motion. You can see my hip turn is minimal, and my feet are very quiet. I put 60 percent of my weight on the left foot at address, and leave it there throughout the swing. There's no torquing with the feet. If you lose your footing, hitting the ball solidly from a fairway bunker becomes hard, if not impossible.

“I’m making a shorter, more controlled swing than usual.”

Because my lower body is quiet, I need a full shoulder turn to generate power and speed. Keep your tempo smooth, and with the quiet lower body, you don't have to worry about losing your balance. The key is to accelerate through impact. Go after it, but don't try to gouge the ball out. Let the club do the work, and you'll hit a shot that will be worth remembering, too. —With Guy Yocom