If you were to strap a heart-rate monitor onto a tour pro’s body, you’d barely see an uptick on the display when a shot hits the sand. That’s because better players know bunker shots are easy to execute— you just have to commit. That’s the real issue with most recreational players who struggle. They can’t commit to the process because it feels counterintuitive. Can’t say I blame them. It is strange that you’re trying to intentionally miss the ball in a greenside bunker. It’s also strange that you have to put so much effort into such a short shot—but you have to. Look at me (above). You can see I’m swinging with real effort, yet the ball will fly only about 10 yards. So here’s your first tip to better bunker play: A full body turn is required to get the ball to the hole—don’t just swing with your arms. To help make a better turn, flare your left foot at address, and rotate aggressively toward the target when you swing. You’ve got to commit. Read on for more tips to make sand shots easier—two for when you’re near the green and two from fairway sand. —WITH RON KASPRISKE
Wrist play is OK
Here’s another reason amateurs struggle in greenside bunkers: They don’t release the club. The wrist of the trail hand (right for right-handers) needs to bow upward as the club passes under the ball (above). This happens before the forearms rotate over in the follow-through. This release creates more speed to get the ball out and allows the wedge to glide through the sand instead of digging. (It also preserves the loft needed to clear the lip.) With good body turn, the club will be delivered correctly so its backside skims the sand.
Sand shots should never be a drag
If you want to hit a crisp iron shot, then the shaft of your club should be leaning toward the target at impact. If you want to execute a greenside bunker shot, the opposite needs to happen. Look at these two photos (above). This is a drill I love to give my students. In the top photo, I’m leaning the shaft forward and sand is accumulating on the face as I drag it. That’s bad. What you want is the handle to lean away, so the back of the wedge lightly skims through the sand. You achieve this skimming action with the trail-hand-release motion I talked about earlier. But this skim-versus-drag drill will help you reinforce the feeling of good club-sand interaction.
The one time it's OK to hit a slice
Tiger Woods’ highlight reel is extensive, but one shot I’ll never forget is that boomerang slice he hit from a fairway bunker at the WGC-Mexico Championship last winter. It curved around a big tree, landed on the green and spun sideways nearly into the cup. It was a brilliant shot, and I like to use his technique when I have to get the ball up fast to clear a lip. Trying to hit a cut shot will encourage a higher initial launch, which is exactly what you need when you’re near the lip and trying to reach the green. Set up in an open stance with the clubface pointing a little skyward, and play for the ball to fade/slice. But the real key is to prevent the clubface from closing as you swing. If you keep that from happening, your finish position is going to look something like what you see here (above), with the shaft pointing downward. Swing across your body with some speed, and the ball will launch high and curve.
Use your driver swing to get it to the hole
Wouldn’t it be great if we could tee it up in a fairway bunker? That’s not going to happen, but in a way, you can use your driver swing from fairway sand if there isn’t a high lip. You’re want to hit these shots a little thin to pick up distance, and the way to do that is by striking the ball with a more level blow. Feeling more of a driver swing can help, because you’re supposed to catch the ball off the tee on the upswing (above). I’m not asking you to hit up on the ball. Rather, pick it out of the sand with minimal contact between your club and the bunker. It will rocket out.