When hitting out of a greenside bunker, how would your technique change for longer vs. shorter shots? More swing? Different clubs?

16 Professionals Contributed |
The dreaded greenside bunker can be an even tougher shot when it's a long way from the pin. Here are some ways to control your distance on this tricky shot from around the greens.

Distance control for green side bunkers

To control distance, you first need to create a consistent strike. After that you can learn the philosophy and mechanics to dial in your distance and hit it close to the hole. Watch the video here to learn how to pull it off!

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3 Ways… 3 Levels

Greenside Bunker shots are the easiest shots in golf… Right? Well, some people think so, some don’t! Once you can consistently just get the ball out, next you should learn how to better control your distance out of the bunker.

I teach 3 ways to adjust distance when hitting from a greenside bunker.

1) Loft, this is the simplest and most straightforward way to adjust distance. Loft can be adjusted by choosing different clubs or by opening the face of the club you are using (or playing it more square).

2) Length and/or Speed of Swing, this is like hitting a pitch or wedge shot where you adjust the club speed and distance of the shot by swinging bigger or smaller. Oftentimes I will make a good 3/4 backswing and adjust my follow-through to determine shot distance. If I finish belt-high with the face open that should produce a short shot, a full follow-through should result in a longer shot.

3) V-Shaped vs. U-Shaped, this is the most advanced option, and the technique I learned in Tom Watson’s “Getting Up & Down” book. A V-shaped swing is where the player actively hinges the wrist abruptly and unhinges them just as quick near impact in order to create speed and loft. With this technique the body should stay relatively still and passive and the resultant shot will be short, high, and hopefully create plenty of backspin! The U-Shaped Swing is a fuller, wider swing that is more like a shot played from the fairway with good body rotation and less wrist “action”. This technique should help a player fly the ball farther and let it roll out to a distant hole location.

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Use the right club and vary swing length

Too many people get in a bunker and automatically pull out the 60′ wedge–WRONG!!!!!!

If you have a short shot and need height and stopping power use the 60′. If you’ve got a long bunker shot and don’t need a lot of height–try your PW or gap wedge. Mid-length shots a 54 or 56 works fine.

The two most important keys to being a good bunker player is consistent entry point into the sand and consistent depth of cut. When you use more loft than you need you’ll need a bigger swing. The bigger your swing the harder it is to repeat these. Try a less lofted wedge and make the swing shorter.

You also have to vary swing length depending on the shot, always try to keep the length of the backswing short and the speed through the sand up. Speed will do 2 things–get the club through the same more easily and create more spin to help the ball stop.
One last thought–the longer the ball is in the air–the more it will tend to fade so aim a little more left (right hand golfer) if you go with a PW or GW out of the bunker.

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Golf is a game of angles

On green side bunkers I’ve been a proponent of getting the arms and club back so that you always have enough swing to get thru all kinds of sand, soft to heavy. Next opening and closing versatility on a 56 degree of loft 15 degree angle of bounce is magic. 56 degree loft is all the loft you ever need, especially when you add some more.

The final piece is learn to change angles of approach on the up and downswing, some deeper lies like semi buried need steeper angles and neutral lies more on top of sand shallower sweepier angles. Golf is a game of angles, differing degrees of angles needed at times especially in green side bunkers.

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Not just length, but sand conditions

The length of shot is easiest to change by using different lofted clubs. Anything over 35-40 yards I begin to play with less lofted clubs. I go so far as to play a standard bunker style shot with an 8 iron from 70 yards or so. I was fortunate to spend time with Tom Kite when I was trying to play for a living and he suggested the technique. With just a little practice I learned to play explosion shots with 8, 9, and PW to cover distances beyond my SW lengths.

But this is the tip of the iceberg! From course to course and sometimes from bunker to bunker on the same course, the depth and consistency of the sand changes the club of choice. Deep powdery sand requires a more open face to expose the bounce and a more shallow swing angle, which may cause a club change. Where a bunker with minimal sand will sometimes cause a need to play from a squarer face on a club with less bounce.

It is essential, just as in any area of the shortgame to become artistic, and not get stuck using one club or one technique. Think outside your normal box and grow your game!

The Golf Center at the Highlands
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Change it up

Rarely if ever are players excited about bunker shots. Best advice I can give is try some different options. See what club in your bag you feel most comfortable with. Move the ball position around in your stance and see what produces the best results. Some players benefit from a more square face then the traditional open it up as much as possible method. Sometimes just getting the ball out is the best play. After a small amount of practice and using some different equipment often times bunker play will improve drastically.

Canyon Springs Golf Course
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Blast or Pick?

When you find yourself in a greenside bunker, it is important to use as much loft as you have handy and hit 1 inch behind the ball, throwing lots of sand up onto the green. This is called a blast shot. When your ball is in a fairway bunker, however, you want to hit the ball first and use the club that is appropriate for the distance of the shot you have. This is where are you will pick the ball clean from the sand. Just like in green grass, hit the ball first when you are in a fairway bunker and have a long distance to the green.

The Country Club of Virginia
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Distance control in Greenside Sand

Controlling distance from green side sand is a must have skill. It is actually quite simple. Players must first learn the main skill in a bunker which is learning to compress the sand out of the bunker in a desired direction. If the technique is sound, the ball will go exactly in the direction the sand goes. After that it’s all about making the sand go different distances. Ultimately the distance the sand goes is directly related to the amount of force applied to it. This may come from from many different applications such as swing size, varying follow through lengths, different clubs, etc. Again, the main skill is moving sand.

Get in that bunker without a ball and get really good at moving that sand a desired distance and direction. This skill is not hard to do. Once you learn the feel of moving sand just pretend the ball is one of those grains of sand and knock it out close to the hole!

Rockville Links Club
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Club Choice

If you are 200 yards from the green you are likely not hitting the same club as you you would from 100 yards, correct? So why use the same club for a 50-yard bunker shot as you would from say a 10-yard bunker shot? Go down in loft all the the way to a PW if you must. As for the swing, the attack angle should be a little more shallow, so you’ll need a WIDER swing than you would for a short shot, that is not so abruptly up and down.

The Rookery At Marco
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It's a ball position...

On a short bunker shot place ball inside left heel (right-handed golfers)…Longer bunker shots move ball to the middle of the stance and keep the club low on the take-away instead of the normal “picking it up” on the backswing of a shorter bunker shot…However, this is all meaningless if the student doesn’t spend a good length of time practicing these shots!

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Control from a Bunker

There are multiple ways to control distance from a greenside bunker, taking more sand or less sand will vary the distance. You can change clubs and use different lofts for varying the distance. For me if the ball is close to the green I prefer more loft and less sand which provides more spin and stops the ball quicker. For longer greenside bunker shots I prefer my gap wedge and taking a little more sand which allows the ball to roll out a little more. You should practice with multiple clubs and many different lies in the sand to learn what you do the best. Remember the type of sand can have a huge effect on your shots as well, soft sand or harder more compacted sand. Try to practice in all of it.

Big Sticks Golf
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Easiest Shot in Golf

The reason it’s the easiest shot in golf, it’s the only one you don’t hit the ball. Typical “rules of thumb”, on fairway bunkers, all ball, no sand, green side bunkers, all sand, no ball.

My choice is my 52 degree wedge opened up using the same swing I would with a 56 degree wedge.

I concentrate on a spot behind the ball, not the ball, taking the swing path a little outside causing a slight outside to in swing path cutting across the target line.

How much one chooses to open the face is personal preference, and to have a successful shot, the club face must remain open. This starts with your grip. Open the club to the desired open face and face your top hand with palm up. The lower hand will be the same. This will keep the club face open thru the swing.

Brookshire Golf Club
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Calibrate your sand explosion shots

If you can feel the swing for a 30, 40 or 50 yard pitch shot with a 56, 58 or 60 degree wedge you have the right feel/technique to cover 30, 40 or 50 feet of “explosion” type bunker shots.

The difference is in ball first contact for the pitch; sand first contact (an inch behind the ball) for the explosion bunker shot.

Yes there are more specialty types of bunker shots. However, master the pitch shot technique and then use it to hit explosion shots and you will find the 30 yard pitch stroke if used in a bunker will have the ball traveling roughly 30 feet if you hit the sand first an inch behind the ball.

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Better Bunker Play

Common misunderstandings about greenside bunker play include the swing required, the angle of attack and the angle of the shaft and clubface at impact. Choosing the correct club for you is important. More loft for short shots, less loft for long shots is the general rule. In order to execute a proper bunker shot, practice “flopping” the ball over a bunker to better understand how the sand wedge works. Proper shaft angle at address, grip pressure and “using the bounce” are key elements and can simplify the fear of this shot. I offer the “keep it simple” approach. And remember, learning to “thump” the sand with your club will improve your performance.

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Long vs Short Bunkers

Technique for Bunker distance should change but club choice should change. But like most golfers have their fears in a Bunker and they hit too far behind. 1st make sure your clubface is OPEN { picture a glass of Wine on your face) hands and grip goto the Middle of our stance, Put of weight toward the target, then make a big swing. When practicing see how far the club you are using is going and hit to different flags at different distances. Short game is fun practice the same way. Watch videos of Seve B. growing up he used mid irons to practice Bunker shots

Fox Hollow Golf Club
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Distance Control from Bunkers

Bunkers are (or at least should be) the easiest shot in golf – it’s an intentional mishit. In fact, bunkers are where I make the only guarantee in my teaching. I’ll make you better in 30-minutes or you don’t pay me.

So when it comes to distance control in bunkers, I believe you can both change clubs and open or shut the face more or less to effect distance. For example, a short-sided or high face bunker requires lots of loft and clubhead speed. Lay that face open and swing away.

Conversely, a 30-50 yard bunker shot can be hit with a pitching wedge or even a 9-iron USING THE SAME TECHNIQUE as the sorter shot. The ball will come out lower and release more, but it’ll cover the distance.

Play with this in the practice bunker at your home course because as with all short game related shots – it’s about feel (learning how the ball reacts to the swing you make).

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