Long and Short of Bunker Shots
There are so many tips and techniques for bunker shots that you can get your mind so cluttered you can’t execute any of them. But I got a few questions these past couple of weeks about hitting short greenside bunker shots and longer ones, I thought I would dive into the topic and see if I can’t help some of you that are struggling for “something to believe in”.
No matter what theory of bunker play you want to subscribe to, I think there are some very basic fundamentals that apply. The first is to S-L-O-W D-O-W-N. I like the term “speed kills”, especially when it applies to the short game. From full swing short irons and wedges to the shortest putt, my only swing thought is typically to feel the end of the backswing/backstroke. If I can feel it, then I did not get jerky or too quick. At least that’s my key.
Another fundamental is to quiet the hands. If you’re here often, you’ve seen that advice a lot. What I mean by “quiet hands” is that you want to minimize the “floppiness” or quickness of the hand action through the impact zone. We get anxious in the bunkers especially, and tend to try to make the clubhead work by using our pincher fingers and thumb of our right hand. But if you will quiet the hands, and focus more on keeping your left forearm moving through the impact zone, you will have more success in the bunkers, and on all recovery shots around the greens.
For bunker play, I’m a subscriber to a set of fundamentals that are built around a wider stance, more flexed knees, and a full upper body core rotation. When you are practicing, just take swings that move the right amount of sand and see where the club is making contact in relation to your stance and body core. It is likely to be in line with your sternum. Then position yourself so that the ball is just forward of that point. A 15-20-minute bunker session about once a month will do wonders for your technique and confidence.
I like to use several different clubs in the bunkers, from my 57 all the way down to my 51. That way, I never have to swing too aggressively. The lower loft will fly further and roll out some, while the higher loft will deliver a higher trajectory with softer landing.
Fairway bunkers are a different matter altogether. Here you want to make a clean contact with the ball. What I do is play the ball slightly more forward in my stance, choose one longer club than I would from the fairway at that distance, grip down ½” or so and make as smooth and relaxed a swing as I can. And I always play to the safe side of the flag or green.
But the toughest bunker shot of all is that ‘half wedge’ from 50-90 yards. At least in my opinion. I remember a telecast many years ago, when a player had that shot and the announcer said “They shouldn’t even put bunkers at that range because Tom Watson is the only guy who can hit that shot with consistency.” Quite a complement to Tom, but it doesn’t have to be that hard. Choose a mid-loft wedge – 50-55 degrees – and follow the rules for the fairway bunker shot. But swing as if the shot were a little further than it is.
And relax your expectations! Just get it out and somewhere safe and you’re doing better than most.
I hope that helps make some sense out of bunker play. I’m sure these readers will have lots more help to offer – you always do, and I love it!
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Really solid advice all the way through. Thanks!
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