The technique on greenside bunker shots is quite different than what you do on every other shot. The fact that you're not trying to hit the ball first, and you're entering the sand behind it, calls for a particular mind-set—and skill set. Whether you've struggled from the sand or just want a refresher for this season, let me give you some tips and feels for hitting quality sand shots. You'll have a clear plan when you step in a bunker.
DUMP THE COFFEE
The right arm and hand play an important role on bunker shots, and it starts with how they help take the club back. You want them to roll the clubface open so it's pointing skyward immediately in the takeaway. This move puts the clubhead in position to skim through the sand under the ball.
The feel of this rolling motion of the right arm and hand can be duplicated with a coffee cup. Fill it with sand, and hold it in front of you with your right hand. Now take that cup and toss the sand out like I'm doing here, turning your arm clockwise. This motion is just like a backswing that rotates the face open. Copy it, and you'll be in position at the top.
LET THE CLUB PASS THE HANDS
One of the differences between a bunker swing and a normal iron swing is the relationship between your hands and the clubhead through impact. With an iron shot, the hands should move past the ball just before the clubhead strikes it. In a bunker, you want the clubhead to slide under the ball before the hands get there. You're "releasing the clubhead" by letting the right wrist bow.
To skim the club through the sand, the clubface should be pointing skyward well past impact. If you looked at the club during your through-swing, the face would be looking back you, like you see below.
Best Bunker Drill
MAKE RIGHT-HANDED SWINGS
To improve your feel for bunker shots, practice swinging with your right hand only. Start without a ball and make some full swings back and through. Remember the coffee cup drill for the backswing and the bowing of the right wrist during the downswing. Try to slap the sand with the back of the clubhead. Gravity and the weight of the club will help it release properly and give you a good feeling for how big a swing you can make without the ball going very far.
The one-handed motion makes it nearly impossible to cut off the swing too soon—a typical amateur mistake. Once you get comfortable, hit some bunker shots one-handed. Copy this feeling with both hands on the club, and you'll be amazed how good you can be from the sand.