What’s the deal with the “Lawrence of Arabia” backdrop? Well, you’d get a lot of bunker shots in the desert, but that’s not the point. What we’re saying is, bunker play is about imagination, about transporting your mind from a place of fear to a place of daring and trust. To be a good sand player, you have to imagine success: Anticipate the thump of the club through the sand, picture the ball floating up and out, know you can make a big swing and hit the ball only 20 feet. We need to get you believing you can do those things. We’ll look at a few technical keys, but in the end, if you see yourself hitting great bunker shots, you will.
1. SET YOUR ANGLES
A good setup establishes the low point of the swing directly under the ball. It also puts the club in position so the bounce on the clubhead’s sole can create a sliding action through the sand. Here’s how to get set.
With the ball just inside your front heel, grab that leg with your left hand and push down hard, as shown. That tilts your left shoulder down and gets your weight forward-both help set the low point. Then lean the shaft away from the target so the grip is on your right knee. That exposes the bounce. Bring your hands together midway between your thighs, and take your grip. There’s your setup.
2. OPEN THE FACE
The best way to understand how to open the clubface is to focus on the grooves. At address, and rotate the club to your right (clockwise) until the grooves are pointing between your left heel and the tip of your left shoe ( right ). Now you’ve put more loft and bounce on the club. It’s ready to slide through the sand and propel the ball up.
Most amateurs quit on short bunker shots and leave them in the sand. I want you to do all the same things we’ve been talking about, with one exception: Grip down so you have two fingers on the metal of the shaft ( above ). You might have to bend your knees more to get closer to the ball. Gripping down lightens the club, making it like a kid’s club. With the same swing, the ball will go about 10 feet.
3. STAY IN CLOSE
The bunker swing has to be steeper, more of a “V” shape than the “U” of a normal swing. To create that, the traditional instruction says to cut across the ball from out to in. But then you’re asking yourself to use a totally different swing three or four times a round.
A better way to produce a steep angle is to keep your arms in closer to your body when you swing, even let your elbows fold a bit ( right ). You’re narrowing the arc without dramatically changing your swing. Bobby Jones said to play as many shots as possible with the same basic swing. That’s what we’re doing here.
To add distance to a bunker shot, just change clubs. Any iron can provide bounce if you open the face a little. So by turning your 9-iron open, for example, you can swing as I’ve described and created the same sliding action. You’ll hit a lower, longer shot.
4. BE BRAVE!
I’m not going to give you a lot of advice on actually hitting the shot. Getting in a good setup and keeping your arms in close are going to do most of what you need. The key during the swing is to keep an aggressive attitude. Trust and go.
I like to picture Tom Watson, whose rhythm is always brisk and upbeat on greenside shots. Remember, you need some speed to get the club through the sand. Don’t let yourself play scared. Put some pep in the swing, then pose your finish. You’ll like what you see.