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BACK TO BASICS – In The Bunker!

There is one topic or aspect of the game which causes more fear to beginning to average golfers than any other and that is sand or bunker play. I get more emergency requests on the Dewsweepers to help people with sand play than any other one shot in golf.

What causes so many people problems is the “FEAR” that they are not going to get the ball out of the bunker and they are going to be faced with this same dilemma again and again. When I tell you the next part you are going to have a strange look on your face…but the bunker is the one place on the golf course where you do not want to HIT the golf ball. You want to MISS IT FAT!

If that sounds crazy lets’ understand how good bunker players get the ball up and out of the sand. Good bunker players use the sand to move the ball up and out of the bunker and onto the green. The explosion of the sand provides the energy to move the ball rather than the impact of the club with the ball. Most poor results from bunker shots come from hitting the ball first and sending the ball across the green or from trying to hit at the ball with your hands and throwing the club head straight into the sand causing a shot that does not have enough power to get out.

Like all shots though, I believe the foundation to correct execution lies in a proper setup. Let’s take a look at how to set up for a successful bunker shot.

Ball Position

I see more bunker problems start here than anywhere else. We know already that the key to becoming a good bunker player is using the sand to move the ball. With that being the case we need to make sure that the ball is well forward in our stance which will place the ball in front of the natural low point of our swing. With this simple adjustment we can make our normal swing and make sure we hit the sand behind the ball.


This fear of not getting the ball up and out has most of us laying the club to far open in an attempt to help the ball come out Setup: Make bunker shots easier by putting the ball forward in your stance in front of your natural low point.

Golf Instruction

Higher and softer. I would urge you to try it a different way. Aim the face of the club at your target (square clubface not open). Next set up with your feet aimed slightly to the left of your target (Right hand Player). Now during your shot swing your arms and shaft along your feet line rather than your target line. This will help you hit softer bunker shots!

Practice Drill for Setup

First I encourage all of you who fear the sand to become friendlier with it. Go to your practice bunker and with your index finger draw a circle in the sand about 3-4 inches in diameter. Now make some practice swings hitting the circle of sand and splashing some sand up onto the green.

When you feel comfortable doing this drill you are ready to add the ball. Draw the same circle and add a ball in the middle of the circle. Now make sure the ball is towards your front foot and that your stance is slightly open. Go ahead and make the same swing you were just making without the ball. Splash the sand up and out onto the green. The result will be a nicely blasted bunker shot which lands safely on the green.

Circle: Use this Practice drill

Draw a circle in the and and practice splashing thecircle of sand up onto the green. Blast: Do not try and hit the ball onto the green, instead, practice splashing sand up ontothe putting surface Make a big enough swing to get it out!

Too often when the fear of the bunker grabs us we want to hurry up and get it over with. When we feel this way most of the time we take a backswing that is too short.Without a big enough backswing we are forced to try and over accelerate our hands and arms toward the ball to give it enough power to get out.

This normally doesn’t work too well for us. The key to success here is to make sure you take a big enough pivot to get the ball out. For most this is going to be a bigger slower pivot motion. Remember to take a big enough swing and keep the speed and rhythm of your arms constant through the swing. Don’t try to give it any extra at impact.

Still Not Taking Enough Sand??

Well here is a little tip for those of you who might face shot where there is water or more bunkers behind the green and catching it a little thin is not a favorable option. Try closing the clubface slightly. The result will be that the leading edge of the Sand wedge is now lower than the bounce and will catch the sand first and help you dig more sand.

Feeling Better, Now Try Some Bounce

Not worried about getting the ball out anymore and you are more concerned with getting it close to the hole for a sandy? Hold your sandwedge up in front of you. Notice that the bottom of the club is rounded and lower than the leading edge. This is bounce! Learn to use it to hit it soft and close to the hole, out of the bunker. Go back to your practice bunker and draw your circle of sand. This time make some practice swings hitting the back of the sand wedge or the bounce against the sand rather than the leading edge. Result: more shallow splashes of sand, more spin and softer, closer shots to the hole.

Use the bounce for more spin on bunker shots. Follow these few drills and set up procedures to take the fear out of the bunker. I bet after a few weeks that you will begin to be looking for bunker shots and looking at them as a scoring opportunity rather than another edition of fear factor.

Becoming a good bunker player will have you on the way to making more par saves and more birdies on those par fives you try to reach in two.

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~ Tony Ruggiero

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