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Greenside Bunker Play
Mastering the Splash

Hitting greenside bunker shots can be easy!Get Up and Down out of Greenside Bunkers

As I stated in my main article on bunkers, the word trap is not in the rules of golf. The governing body of golf, the USGA, calls them bunkers. Many feel trapped though, as they really have no idea how to get the ball out! Are you tired of hearing that a shot from the sand is one of the easiest shots in golf? How the pros would rather be in a bunker than in the rough around the green? Confusing to most players, but here's the truth: Shooting from the sand can be easy, if you understand the mechanics behind the shot.

In a regular shot, your club hits the ball and then the ground. With a bunker shot however, your club should hit the sand, which in turn moves the ball. But how much sand do you move? That depends purely on the shot at hand. Many skilled players move a lot of sand on green side explosion shots. Some will enter as much as 4 inches behind the ball. Less sand means more spin, but that's risky for golfers with high handicaps. If you miss hit and take too little sand you can end up either flying it into the lip or leaving the ball in the bunker.

What Technique Should You Use to Hit Greenside Bunker Shots?

Develop a good technique to hit your greenside bunker shotsUse Solid Technique to Hit Bunker Shots

The technique used for bunker shots has evolved over the years. Old-school instructors taught that you should set up open to your target and swing outside in to cut across the ball. That method is not only unnecessary, but it often results in shanked, bladed and pulled shots among other misses. Another part of this misconception is that students are taught to open their club faces to offset the open stance that so they won't slice the ball. News flash! The ball will fly in the direction of the sand. If you swing and move sand forward onto the green towards the flag, then that's the direction the ball will fly! Having an open face will make the ball come out higher and it will enable you to use the bounce on the bottom of the club, but it will not cause the ball to go sideways. It has its benefits as you can see, but if you overdo it and are swinging across your body it's "hello hosel and pack your bags cause you're going to shankville!" It just doesn't need to be that complicated! I will make things much more simple and easy for you to repeat.

The first thing you need to be a great bunker player besides good instruction is a good sand wedge. Depending on where you play, you may need a wedge with more or less bounce. If the sand is light and fluffy, more bounce will help you cut through it and prevent you from getting your club head stuck. If the sand tends to be more firm or even wet, less bounce is desirable so that you won't bounce off the firm surface and skull the ball across the green.

The Situation:

Your ball is in a green side bunker. You want to hit a nice explosion shot that will come out high and stick softly on the green.

The Solution:

Choke up on your sand wedge for just a little bit more control. Stand square or slightly open to your target. Be careful with standing open...only in moderation. Open the club face to use the bounce for soft sand. Play the ball forward in your stance to make sure that you hit the sand first. For most higher handicappers, set your weight 80% on your front foot and keep it there throughout the shot to prevent backing up and hitting too far behind the ball. For a better player you may not need as much weight left, especially if you are trying to hit the ball further. Think of a sand shot as going 50% of the distance of a pitch with the same swing. The size of your swing will help determine the distance. For most sand shots I recommend swinging from 10:00 to 2:00. The most important thing is to swing hard, take sand and stay aggressive. Deceleration is a killer in the sand. No matter how hard you swing, the ball won't over shoot the green if you take some sand, but if you decelerate the ball either won't come out or you will flip your hands and send it sailing over the green.

A Special Note on Distance Control:

Just like with pitching, distance is difficult to control when shooting from the sand. There are several factors that help determine how far your ball will go and when you become aware of them and practice them, controlling distance can be much easier.

  • The size and speed of your swing. Obviously a faster swing or a bigger swing will make the ball travel further.
  • The club face. While an open face will make the ball go higher, contrary to what you might think, it can actually make your ball go farther in the sand. The reason being is that it will dig less as you are able to utilize the bounce on the bottom of the club.
  • The texture of the sand. Soft sand can be heavy and if you make a big splash it will kill the shot. With firm sand you will take less sand and that sends the ball further.
  • Ball position. Contrary to what most people think, playing it back will not make you hit it farther. If you play it back you will catch the ball on the down arc pushing it down into the sand. Playing the ball forward enables you to catch it on the up swing with a shallower angle of attack and fly it farther.
  • Your feet. The deeper you dig your feet into the sand and the lower you make yourself, the deeper you will hit into the sand. The less you dig in with your feet, the less sand you will take.
Maria Palozola

Maria Palozola is a member of the LPGA and has participated in multiple LPGA Tour events. She has provided instruction to thousands of students in the past 20+ years and has won multiple teaching awards from the LPGA, Golf Digest, and Golf Magazine including being ranked as one of the top 50 female instructors in the world.

Who is Maria Palozola?
- Top 50 LPGA Instructors in the World
- A Golf Digest Top 10 Teacher in Illinois
- A Golf Magazine Top Teacher in the Midwest
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