Bunkers can strike fear in any golfer and tend to be especially intimidating for women, whose typical instinct is to pick the ball cleanly off a surface rather than driving the club into the turf beneath it. But with the proper technique, bunker play can be a piece of cake even for players who lack great physical strength. Here are the things you need to know to get the ball out of the sand every time.
By PGA Professional Katherine Marren for Golf Digest Woman
(Model: Blair O’Neal)
Address: Open the clubface before taking your grip, turning the handle to the right so the face is aiming to the right of your target. By opening the face, you change the bottom angle of the club, creating more bounce so the club can skid through the sand, rather than dig and stop. Position the ball in the middle of your stance.
BackSwing: Hinge the club up quickly so that your left arm and clubshaft form an L. This steepens your angle of attack, helping the clubhead to contact the sand before the ball. Swing your hands to about 10 o’clock, which will generate enough clubhead speed to drive the sand and the ball out of the bunker.
Impact: If there’s one secret to getting out of a bunker, it’s making sure your weight is on your left foot and your sternum is even with the ball at impact. Think about splashing the sand onto the green; the ball will follow.
Finish: Swing through to at least 2 o’clock, mirroring the length of your backswing. Your weight should finish squarely on your left foot. (Tilting back on your right foot is the main reason golfers don’t get out.) Make sure to finish as with a full swing, your body facing the target. Now your weight shift will be correct.
What is “Bounce”?
The term “bounce” is commonly used to refer to the bottom and the protruding back part of the clubhead (correctly named the sole and the flange). But bounce is actually the term for the angle between the leading edge of the club’s sole and the ground at address. This angle is very important in wedges, especially those used for bunker play. A club with minimal bounce will perform better from firm lies, such as hard-packed sand; a club with a higher degree of bounce is more effective to use in fluffy sand.
Drill 1: Spray the Green
Without a ball, take swings from the bunker, hitting the sand with enough force to splash it onto the green. Propel as much sand as far as you can. If you can consistently splash sand onto the green, you can get the ball there, too.
Drill 2: Divot Check
Your divot will tell you if you’re hitting your bunker shot correctly. Draw a line in the sand and address it as if it were your ball. Take several swings along the line and note where the divot occurs. The ideal swing produces a divot of equal length on both sides of the line (above, bottom line). If your divot is behind the line (above, middle line), your club is bottoming out too early. Practice making divots in front of the line (above, top line) to move the low point of your swing forward.
Drill 3: Hear the “Thump”
Making the bunker shot more auditory is a great way to learn to hit the shot and to stop scooping the ball. A thump sound tells you that you’re hitting down through the sand more consistently. You can practice making the thump using a foot-long two-by-four or a plastic bunker board. Place the board in the bunker and pile sand on it (left). First practice thumping the sole of the club off the board without a ball, spraying the sand forward; then add a ball and repeat.
Drill 4: Weight on the left
Most golfers have an impulse to “scoop” the ball out of a bunker because they think they need to get the ball up in the air quickly. That’s why it’s very important to keep your weight on your left leg throughout the swing. To practice this, drop your right foot back at address so only your toes are touching the sand. Then hit several shots. This trains you to start and finish your swing with your weight on your left foot, which prevents you from falling back at impact and scooping into the ball. The clubhead will bottom out in the correct position—underneath the ball—propelling it high into the air.
Uphill lie: Swing up the slope
Here, I’m helping Blair align her shoulders parallel to the slope. She can feel her weight on her right foot; the ball is in the center of her stance and the clubface is open to produce more height. The key is to swing the clubhead up the slope through impact. This will launch the ball into the air and out of the bunker.
Downhill lie: Swing down the slope
Again, Blair has her shoulders parallel to the slope. The ball is back in her stance and the clubface is wide open. She needs to hinge the club straight up on the backswing and follow the slope on the downswing, keeping her weight on her left foot. The ball will come out low and fast, so always aim for the widest part of the green.
Same swing, different clubs
The easiest way to handle short, medium and long bunker shots is by changing clubs. There’s no need to alter your swing or ball position. For a short bunker shot (less than 10 yards between you and the pin), use your highest-lofted wedge, usually a 60-degree lob wedge. For a medium-length shot (10–20 yards), choose your sand wedge. For a long bunker shot (20 or more yards), opt for your pitching wedge or 9-iron.
The 33-Percent Rule
When you factor in the open clubface and the amount of sand you must displace, you can expect the ball to travel only a third of its normal distance. Therefore, if you have a 20-yard bunker shot, make a 60-yard swing.
HOW TO RAKE A BUNKER (AND WHERE TO LEAVE THE RAKE)
By Colin Cann, LPGA Tour caddie
We’ve all arrived at a bunker, only to find a mess of footprints and uneven sand. Here’s how to properly prepare it for the next golfer:
Enter the bunker from its shallowest point; do not climb down the face as that may damage the lip. Exit the same way you entered, so you only have to rake one set of footprints.
Hold the rake gently, bending your knees so you’re not leaning on it. Sweep the sand lightly back and forth, toward and away from you, so the depth of the sand remains consistent. Keep the rake moving; any sudden stop will leave indentations in the sand. If you notice deep teeth marks being made, turn the rake over so the teeth point up and use the flat side to smooth the surface.
Although there’s no rule that specifies where bunker rakes should be placed, LPGA Tour caddies are told to leave the rake outside the bunker. Place it off to the side so it’s not in the line of play and is less likely to deflect or stop a ball that’s headed to the green.
Colin Cann has been Paula Creamer’s caddie since 2005. He has also caddied for Se Ri Pak, Annika Sorenstam and Grace Park.
Katherine Marren is the PGA Director of Instruction at Quail Lodge & Golf Club in Carmel, Calif.
(Photos by J.D. Cuban for Golf Digest Woman.)