Bunkers are called sand traps for a reason, they are there to catch you out and make you struggle. Arguably it is worst to be in a really bad bunker than duff it in the water hazard. At least, you get relief from the water in a drop zone. You could be digging and digging all the way to China in a bunker and never get anywhere. That is why so many golfers strive for tips and hints on how t play a great bunker shot. The worst bunkers to get out of will usually be the ones that protect a green. These are designed to protect the pin position, and offer up risk reward opportunities to reach the green in regulation and go birdie hunting.
So how do I play the bunker shot?
The great bunker players through history have a long smooth swing, that flows and accelerates through impact. Many players slow down as they enter impact for fear of impacting with the sand, and it takes a certain mental strength, lots of confidence and plenty of practice to get your technique spot on. To be honest even with all this, you can still duff the odd one, so try not to be too hard on yourself, just keep plugging away! (yes that was a pun)
When you are looking to play the ball, line it up with the centre of your stance to start with, then just move it a touch further forward from centre. Prepare the club by hovering it a few times in the place you plan to impact in the sand. After all, you want to hit sand first so you get that nice ‘splash’ out onto the green. If you don’t then you will not have the loft to clear the bunker lip, or you will blast it way over the green.
Wedges have more bounce than any other club, and that is why they are specifically used for bunker play, specifically the sand wedge. Great Short game players like Phil Mickelson have been known to have a huge array of wedges in their bag with varying degrees of loft and bounce. Especially when you know that the course will really test your short game skills. To take advantage of this bounce the next thing you want to do is slightly open your club face. An open club face is a crucial aspect if playing a great splash and run bunker shot.
Finally, remain positive, don’t think about the sand being in the way. Imagine you are simply accelerating through thin air and have the confidence to keep accelerating even as you hit the sand when that jarring motion enters the shaft of the club. Enter the sand with the club head in the spot about three inches behind the ball you were hovering over earlier. Follow through with pace and confidence, and hold your full stance afterwards as the ball splashes out of the sand, and onto the green.
What about if the pin is close to the bunker?
If you are looking for some tips on playing the shorter bunker shot, it is relatively simple to adjust. Legendary coach Buch Harmon said it is good to have at least one bunker shot in your arsenal, but if you can have two, your scoring will vastly improve. The confidence aspect does not change, and you need to accelerate through impact the same. However, some changes are of course required.
First the ball needs to be further forward in your stance, then tilt the clubs shaft further away from the target. This helps elevate the loft, making the ball travel higher, and land softer. Then to lessen the distance that the ball will travel, cut off your follow through so it’s shorter. This will create a higher, shorter shot that lands soft, and doesn’t fly off the other side of the green.
There you have it. The basics of adding, at least, one quality simple bunker shot to your arsenal. Knowing that you can competently get out of the sand will make you more aggressive naturally as you play the course. Making golf more interesting, and hopefully giving you more opportunity to go low. Now get on the course, and get practising.