Based on my observations and feedback from recreational golfers of all skill levels, I believe one of the most puzzling and challenging of all shots for most golfers is the greenside bunker “explosion” shot. Far too many times, the result is either making a swing that is way too steep and plows the clubhead into the sand, or it’s the exact opposite – catching the ball right “in the forehead” and skulling it across the green into who-knows-what kind of new trouble. In either case, the end result is a blow-up hole that puts a double bogey or worse on the card.
And the damage to your psyche is much worse than that done to your card.
Besides the visual and mental intimidation of finding your ball in the bunker, we recreational golfers are faced with a super-wide variety of lies and sand textures, unlike the tour players who see essentially the same bunker texture week after week. In contrast, on my own private club course, for example, we have bunkers ranging from wet packed sand (almost mud) to dry fluffy sand several inches thick. In contrast to the tour professionals, we “mere mortals” have a constantly changing set of obstacles in the bunkers, each requiring a different approach.
Let’s start with the basic premise of the bunker shot we have all been taught. While there are slightly varying instructional directions for the execution of the swing, most teach that you should make contact about two inches behind the ball. And it’s often taught that this is the easiest shot in golf, because you don’t even have to hit the ball. I’ve always challenged that notion, because on EVERY OTHER SHOT I face, I am trying to make precise contact with the ball, from driver to putter. So, since those few bunker shots in a round require me to abandon my primary objective . . . couldn’t that possibly make bunker shots the hardest?
Anyway, back to the topic at hand . . . is there a different way to approach bunker shots that might help you improve your up-and-down percentage and significantly reduce those left-in-the-sand or skulled-over-the-green disasters? I believe there is, and I’ve been doing some experimenting with a different approach lately that is showing great promise.
What I’ve been doing is approaching bunker shots in very much the same way I execute any delicate greenside pitch, that is to view it as just another pitch shot, albeit from a more challenging lie than if the ball were sitting on the fairway or light rough. My goal is to make the wedge contact the ball and the sand at just about the same time, and just vary my swing power based on the texture of the sand – wet sand will “reject” the club more than dry, softer sand, requiring less power, much as tight firm turf will reject the club more than a softer lie in the rough.
As I play around with this approach, it seems much easier than trying to actually hit the sand some “measured” distance behind the ball, which also makes it easier for me to judge the distance I need the ball to fly and how much roll out I can expect. What’s most interesting for me is that as I began to experiment with this technique in the practice bunker, I paid close attention to where it “looked like” I was making contact with the sand. I put that in quotes because the sole of the wedge splashes out a large and clearly defined divot, so it really does look like I’m making contact further behind the ball than I really am.
If you are already an accomplished bunker player, my bet is that you are actually making contact much closer to the ball than the proverbial “two inch rule”, and kudos to you for figuring this out.
But for the majority of you out there who find a bunker shot a bit more challenging and fear-inducing, I highly recommend spending even a half hour in the practice bunker giving this “new” method a try. You still want to make a deliberate but relaxed swing and keep your angle of attack as shallow as possible so the bounce in your sand wedge’s sole can do what it was designed to do.
I’m sure we all would appreciate you sharing your own results and discovery with the rest of us.