Greenside Bunker Shots Made Simple

Greenside Bunker Shots Made Simple


Cindy Jones – P.G.A. Professional
Savannah Golf School

The players on the professional tours make it look so easy… with effortless swings the club explodes through the sand and the ball floats out of the bunker and onto the green. These should be the simplest shots in golf since actually hitting the golf ball is not a requirement. The next time you watch a televised tournament – notice that it is rare to ever hear the club and the golf ball make contact.

There is a lot of confusion about how to play greenside bunker shots. Open clubface… Square clubface, Weight on the front foot or is it the back? What about wrist hinge…Ball position etc. etc. Many golfers actually fear bunker shots and it is understandable. With so much uncertainty there is low confidence and little chance of success.

First, get the right equipment – it will help considerably. The sole on a sand wedge is designed to glide/bounce through the sand and this makes it a better club to use from the bunker than a standard pitching wedge. If your set doesn’t include a sand wedge, do yourself a favor and get one.

In my experience I have found that the main reason players have difficulty with bunker shots is that they lack the ability to make consistent contact with the sand and either the shot is skulled across the green or they hit too far behind the ball, decelerate and leave the ball in the bunker. If this sounds familiar, the first priority is to learn to strike the sand in the desired location consistently. After you gain this ability, then increase clubhead speed so that you can splash the clubhead through the sand with the intention of moving greater amounts of sand further distances as technique improves and your confidence increases. I believe that the drill described below can help you get both of these abilities and help you hit better shots.

From a practice bunker…

Place your foot on the surface of the sand and step down firmly enough so that as you drag your foot back in a straight line, you will have made a depression or trench approximately one inch deep into the surface of the sand. Make your trench about four feet long. You will have two ridges of sand bordering each side of the “trench” created by your foot. The ridge of sand closest to the green will be referred to as the front ridge line or the front side of the trench.

  • • Take your stance and establish firm footing for stability during the swing.
  • • Position your feet so that the front of the trench line is closer to your front foot (as opposed to being centered in your stance).
  • • Place your back foot on the opposite side of the trench to accomplish a comfortable stance width.
  • • Assume an address position without soling the clubhead – so that it hovers just above and slightly behind the front ridge of the sand trench.
  • • Open the face of your sand wedge slightly-(so that the heel of the club is closer to the trench line than the toe).
  • • Place slightly more weight on your front foot.
  • • As you swing the club through the front ridge line, let the heel of the club enter the sand before the toe.

Begin the drill at one end of the trench line – endeavoring with each swing to have the clubhead enter the sand at the front of the ridge line – (removing or splashing the sand out of the front ridge line out onto the green surface).

Move both of your feet back a few inches after each swing so that your clubhead is positioned over a new front ridge line to splash through for each new practice swing. If you’ve made your trench line long enough, you should be able to make at least ten swings along the trench. At first you may notice that you are hitting the rear trench line on some swings and in front of the front trench line on other swings. This would be your first indication that you need to practice this drill until you can develop precision as to where the club is entering the sand. This drill will help you develop hand – eye coordination improved swing technique to begin to strike the front of the line with greater frequency over time. Other skills you may acquire from drilling are more consistent clubhead speed and proper path and angle of the club in the downswing. All are important elements improved bunker play.

As you become able to strike the front ridge line more often than not when doing the drill then begin to focus on steady acceleration of the clubhead through the sand – finishing with the majority of your weight on the front foot.

After gaining proficiency splashing the club only through the front trench line, next add golf balls. Make a new trench line with your foot but make the trench more shallow – just a quarter to a half an inch deep. Place some golf balls along the front ridge line. Begin at one end of the line and swing the club, doing what you’ve learned to do in the drill – splash the club through the sand. The ball will be moved by the movement of the sand. Hit sand shots varying the length of swing, clubhead speed, the amount of sand you move from the splash, and the length of your follow through based on what is needed for the distance of the shot that you are practicing.

This drill is a good aid to learn shots from a good lie in bunkers close to the green. Shots from fairway bunkers and bunker shots from buried lies require different techniques than those outlined above.

I hope it will help you gain confidence and hit better sand shots. Have fun – and always remember to rake !