There may be no other routine shot in golf that is more widely feared by amateur golfers than one from a green side bunker. However, most professionals not only would prefer a bunker shot, but in many instances will intentionally play toward one as a better option for missing a green than an alternative from the rough. Aside from the countless hours spent practicing from the bunker, why do professionals seem to embrace playing from the sand? The answer may be simpler than you might think.
Most amateurs whom I encounter who struggle with their bunker play has at least two common faults among them, poor setup and the inability to control the low point of the swing (where the club enters the sand). Instead of taking your buddy’s advice to open the club face, aim left, cut across the ball and hit two inches behind it, try a simpler method to become a more consistent bunker player.
In order to predictably get the ball out of the sand, the most important factor is being able to control where the club enters the sand. Set up square to your target line with the ball positioned one to two inches forward of the middle of your stance. Shift 60 to 70 percent of your weight on your front foot and make your normal swing, pivoting around your front foot (don’t let your weight shift to your back foot). Continue to rotate the torso through the shot as you would on a full swing. The intention is to deliver the club at the base of the ball, not two inches behind it. If your pivot stalls, the club will release, causing you to hit the sand too far behind the ball. Paired with too much weight on your back foot, the result will be thin or fat shots.
A simple drill to improve your ability to control the low point is to draw a line in the sand, set up to it as if the ball were on the line, and make swings that hit the line and take out sand on the target side. Take advantage of the practice bunker to mark a reference point where you can measure where the low point of your swing is, and how consistently you can deliver the club into the sand.
Some practice time spent in the bunker with your focus on the low point will go a long way in helping you become a more predictable bunker player, and should make your approaches less daunting when you no longer fear the sand.
Written by: Brandon Smith, PGA