Nobody likes to see their golf ball drop into a bunker. When your ball winds up in the sand, your mind usually starts to race a little bit.
What kind of lie am I going to have?
Will I be able to get up and down to save par?
Why did I hit the ball in the bunker in the first place?
These reactions are particularly strong among amateur golfers, many of whom have not learned the proper technique to deal with sand traps. Pros, on the other hand, don’t worry too much about the sand, unless they happen to draw a bad lie. With a good lie, most pros will get up and down from greenside bunkers with great regularity.
Aside from the kind of lie you have in the sand, another complicating factor for greenside bunker shots is the lip you have to clear.
If you are in a deep bunker, or if the bunker simply has a tall face on one side, you will need to get the ball up into the air quickly in order to safely exit the trap in a single swing.
With that said, here are some tips you can use to improve your play in this situation.
Start with the Right Club
Using the right club alone is not going to get you out of a deep bunker. It will give you a chance, however.
Most of the time, you are going to want to use your sand wedge in this situation, which is probably not a surprise. Your sand wedge should have somewhere around 56* of loft, which is perfect for greenside bunker play.
However, if you find yourself behind a particularly steep lip, you may wish to use your lob wedge (if you carry one). It might be harder to get the ball all the way to the hole with a lob wedge, but at least you should be able to get out and somewhere onto the green.
Lay the Face Open
For some reason, many amateur golfers have trouble taking this tip to heart. When you set up for the average explosion shot out of a bunker – especially one where you need to clear a tall lip – you need to lay the face of your wedge wide open at address.
The club head should be open far enough to where you could set a bottle of water on the face and it would stand up without a problem. Once the face is laid open in this manner, you will be ready to make your swing.
Why is this important? It’s all about maximizing loft.
You want the club to cut through the sand, sliding under the ball and providing enough power for the sand itself to lift the ball onto the green. If you were to keep the face square, the club head would plow the sand, the ball would come out low, and you’d never get out on your first try.
It might look strange to play this kind of shot with a wide open face at first, but stick with it until you become comfortable.
Put the Hammer Down
You can’t be gentle with this kind of golf shot. If you aren’t willing to swing aggressively through the sand, you aren’t going to get the ball up high enough to clear the lip.
You need to make a hard swing, using both body rotation and wrist action to propel the club head through the sand and into the finish. If we had to identify one single cause as being the most common reason for failed bunker shots, it is simply that most golfers don’t swing hard enough.
Yes, you are already close to the target when you are in a greenside bunker.
No, that does not mean you can get away with a soft swing.
This is another thing you can improve on just by practicing a few times. As you learn how to swing harder in the sand, you will find that the ball actually doesn’t go very far as a result of your hard swings. Most of the energy of the swing is eaten up by the density of the sand.
Also, since the club face is laid wide open, the shot is going to spend a lot of its energy climbing into the air.
Make a hard swing with an open face and you will start to see results like the bunker shots you have seen professional golfers hit on TV.
Don’t Look Up!
You are going to be a bit nervous when playing a bunker shot from behind a tall lip. If the ball doesn’t get out, you are going to waste at least one stroke – and probably more. With that in mind, it might be tempting to look up early in order to see if the ball is going to get out.
Don’t fall into this trap!
When you look up early, you raise the level of your entire body. As a result, the club will swing through higher than intended, and you may miss the sand altogether.
If you miss the sand and just hit the ball, the shot will rocket into the face of the bunker and you’ll be in a world of trouble.
Even with the right technique, you never want to find yourself in a deep bunker with a steep lip between you and the hole. This is one of those skills that you would rather not have to put into action.
It is inevitable, however, that you will need to use this shot once in a while. When those situations do roll around, you should now be better prepared to make your escape. In fact, you might even be able to get up and down more often than not.
Saving par from behind a tall bunker lip is one of the most satisfying feelings you can have in this game.