Chapter 9 : Sand Traps

Ah, those fairway bunkers - the golfer’s bane. Sand traps are a reality on many courses, and you will probably find yourself having to shoot out of them on a fairly regular basis. Although we certainly hope that’s not the case, it certainly is possible. Knowing how to effectively hit out of a sand trap is another huge part of a good golf game.

First, don’t be afraid of the bunker shot. Sure, it can be intimidating, but you can develop good technique that will get you out of the sand and back on the grass - even on the green.

Establish firm footing and take an open stance. Open the clubface by turning it to the outside before hitting the ball. This will put loft on the ball and allow the back portion of the bottom of the club to bounce off the sand instead of having the leading edge dig into the sand. You will want to use a wedge for this shot - preferably a sand wedge.

Distribute most of your weight to the left side of your body. You will swing the club back and through the same distance. Don’t let the clubface close and accelerate through the ball. Don’t let the club touch the sand (a big rules no-no) and concentrate on hitting the sand about two inches behind the ball.

What you are trying to do is take as little sand as possible without making contact with the ball. You want the sand to life the ball out of the bunker. As you make contact with the sand there should be a cupping of the left wrist.

Let me explain "cupping." Assume you are wearing a watch on your left wrist and the face, as usual, is pointing outward. When contacting the sand on the forward swing, you should try to take the back of your left hand and move it towards your watch face, thereby creating wrinkles underneath your left wrist.

This action is called "cupping of the wrist" and it is very necessary in producing quality sand shots. Since this motion prevents the club from closing, the ball is lifted in the air with backspin.

You will want to have a neutral grip on the club. You don't want to use a strong grip for bunker shots because it's absolutely essential that the club face slides under the ball and into your finish without the club face closing.

A neutral grip is one that has the back of the left hand facing parallel to the target line and the right palm facing the same direction. Slap your hands together in front of you and you'll instantly see what I mean. You can also choke down on the club in an effort to gain more control.

Aim the club face down the target line which should be just left of the hole. You've heard all the hype about opening the club face and such and that's fine if you hit a lot of bunker shots but most folks don't so aim the club face down the target line which should be just left of the hole. The target should be just left of the hole because this method will impart some left to right spin which will move the ball from left to right once it gets on the ground.

Aim your feet on a 20-30 degree angle to the left of the target line. The greater the angle you create between your feet and the target line, the higher and softer the ball will come out of the trap. Practice these shots a bit with varying angles and you'll see what I mean. Find the angle where you're most comfortable and which produces the best results and stick with it whatever it might be.

This all works for balls that are lying on top of the sand, but what do you do if your ball is buried? The technique is different.

When your ball is buried (fried egg) in the bunker, you do not want to swing super long and follow through. The idea is to pick your sand wedge up abruptly, swing down steep, stick your club in the sand, and leave it there. What will happen is your ball will pop out. It won't have any spin on it because of the lie, but the chance of it getting out of the sand are much better than if you were to follow through.

Why is this so...? You want a very steep angle of attack and no follow through on this shot because it allows for the club to get more underneath the ball. With some of the ball resting below the surface, you need to compensate to get underneath it. That is where a short, steep, punchy type of swing works best.

A typical bunker shot calls for an open stance, an open clubface, and a nice shallow swing while taking a little bit of sand. That will not work with a plugged lie, regardless of how hard you swing. Your club will be approaching from too shallow an angle.

You will hit the sand to the RIGHT of the ball, instead of hitting the sand UNDERNEATH the ball. Thus, your club will just bounce, or deflect into the ball. Worse yet, you will plow too much sand into the back of ball and it will go nowhere. You need to get below the ball somehow.

Here's what I recommend from a buried lie in a greenside bunker:

  • Set up with a bit squarer stance.
  • Square the clubface a bit also. This will allow for the leading edge to enter the sand first.
  • Pick the club up steeper, and then swing down steeper and stick the club in the ground. Hit about 1-3 inches behind the ball. You can swing hard, just don't follow through. You won't be able to follow through if you make the correct swing, because you will be coming down too steep. That's good!

This is not a shot that you will face a lot, but I still think it is worth practicing. Go to a practice trap and step on a couple balls to bury them a little. Then hit some shots. Experiment a bit. Especially get the feeling of that up and down "chopping" motion, and that no follow through release. By doing so, you will find that this shot is not really that hard to get out of the bunker.

After a round of golf while socializing in the '19th Hole', you will always hear "I hit the ball well but didn't score." The object of the game of golf is to score the lowest possible score you can. How you can hit the ball well and not score can be summed up in two words: course management.

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