How can amateurs reduce the fear of escaping a fairway bunker?

16 Professionals Contributed |
Fairway bunkers can be tricky to escape, so we asked our golf professionals how to get out of them in the least amount of strokes (with your pride untouched).

Change Your Focus

A lot of my students feel nervous when they find themselves in fairway bunkers. However, fairway bunkers do not have to be a make-or-break shot in your golf round. Simply, change your focus.

The next time you find yourself in a fairway bunker, follow these simple steps to get your golf ball out of the sand, and hopefully on (or near) the green. First, choke up a bit on the club. This makes the club a bit shorter, which will help you “pick” the ball out of the sand. When you shorten a club, you may want to also club up, as the ball will not fly quite as far. Second, dig in to the sand with your feet and stand tall. You want to make sure you avoid sliding around in the bunker with your feet. Lastly, change your focus. I want you to now look at the front of the golf ball.

Sounds different? Feels different? When was there a time that you lined up to any golf shot and looked at the front of the golf ball? Maybe never. Well, that is going to change today. Simply look at the front of the golf ball and you will likely never hit the sand before the ball.

Good luck, and visit us at for more great tips!

PGA Golf Pro
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Swing Smooth and Never Fear the Fairway Bunker Again

Fairway Bunkers can be very scary and overwhelming if we let ourselves overthink it.

Obviously we will find ourselves in a few different situations inside the fairway bunker, normal lie, up against the edge, side hill lies, and a buried ball.

The biggest key to successfully getting out of the fairway bunker for every one of these situations is..
A smooth and balanced swing!

Inside the bunker we never want to feel like we are trying to overpower the shot. Always take a smooth swing that will leave you perfectly balanced at the end.

Smooth in terms of this situation: is how fast you can swing while maintaining the club to make good contact and finish balanced after the swing.

Keys to help make sure you take a smooth swing

1. Solid stance and set up
2. Good grip
3. Club up. Don’t muscle it
4. Focus on making contact with one spot
5. Complete backswing
6. Remember good contact over speed in the fairway bunker

Practice these keys and remember them while you are on the course and I’m sure you will have no fear in those fairway bunkers!

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Hit in Front of the LINE

I’ve always taught students there are three reasons why players struggle with ANY bunker shot:

1. Inconsistent impact point in the sand
2. Inconsistent depth of cut (only important in greenside bunker shots)
3. Scared to death because of all the previous bad shots they’ve hit from other bunkers.

First issue is to get over the fear and the expectation of hitting a bad shot. Basketball players don’t expect to miss a free throw, you don’t drive a car expecting to run off the road or worse have a wreck, good business people don’t go into a negotiation expecting to lose. Don’t go into a bunker shot thinking you are going to hit a bad one. Now back to the way to practice and get over that fear.

First here’s a great drill.

Get into any bunker and draw a line, about 2 feet long, perpendicular to your target line, now make practice swings WITHOUT A BALL, focusing on making contact with the sand in front of the line. For a fairway bunker shot the line should be about 2″ back of your front heel. For a greenside bunker shot about the same or maybe closer to the middle of your stance. As you make swings move down the line so you can see each time where you make contact with the sand in relation to the line. It may help it you set about 65% of your weight on your front foot and not shift your weight on the backswing, this will help you stay ON the ball and move the bottom of your swing more forward–hopefully in front of the line.

With a ball when practicing or on the course from fairway bunkers the key is to swing within yourself. Dig in slightly to anchor yourself in the sand, always take enough club to get over the lip and try if possible to take one more club than necessary and make a 2/3-3/4 swing. Do not try to help the ball in the air but rather to strike the sand in FRONT of the ball.

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Adhere to a different approach than greenside bunkers

The main thing is to adopt a different set of concepts than you would for a greenside bunker shot. It can be as simple as creating a concise and easy checklist.

1-do not dig your feet in like you would for a normal bunker shot. Remember we are not trying to take any sand behind the ball.

2-try to feel that you limit as much leg action as possible so as not to increase your knee flex during the downswing. Excessive knee flex could potentially change your body height during the swing and create the dreaded fat shot.

3-when you address the ball address the club either at the equator of the ball or even at the top of the ball. I stole that concept from Greg Norman.

4-If there is no high lip in front of you don’t be afraid to use the same club you would normally use for the distance you are facing. Hybrids tend to glide very well thru the sand in a fairway bunker. That all changes if the ball is more forward in the bunker and you have to get it airborne quickly. Then you have to make sure you take more club and just get it out.

5-Develop a overall feeling of good arm structure and width during the swing to create a feeling of a shallow more “sweepy” type approach to the ball. If my student is a person who watches a fair bit of golf on TV and is aware of a lot of tour pros I will have them picture a swing more in the Steve Stricker or Zach Johnson mode. A wide sweeping arc with very calm wrists and hands. This look and feel can create a pattern that picks the ball off the sand. Probably the best image you can create is that the triangle that is formed by the shoulders, arms and hands is maintained throughout the entire motion.

To quote Nick Faldo this summer when describing Bryson DeChambeau’s swing, “See folks, the swing is just a giant chip shot,” Jason Day’s action for his overall short game is also a good image. He keeps his arms very structured without a lot of trail arm bend during the motion which in turn establishes a nice shallow downswing shape.

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What did Lee know?

“Wood in the bunker, wood in the head” Lee Trevino. That was one of thousands of Lee Trevinoisms. He thought any person trying to hit a fairway wood out of the bunker had lost his marbles. This was back in the day when woods were wooden and shafts were steel, and sweet spots were pee sized.

Today though with large sweet spots and lightweight heads and shafts and…..The Hybrid!! Fairway shots can be quite simple. The idea of using a hybrid from a fairway bunker is a lot like using a wedge with lots of bounce out of the green side bunker.
In a green side bunker, we like bounce because it helps us glide the wedge just under the sand, under the ball without digging too deep. In a fairway bunker the width of the hybrid bottom does the same thing. If we hit an iron from a fairway bunker and hit the sand first we have a fat or chunk and may still have a ball in the bunker. However, if you strike the sand a bit early with the hybrid, you’ll skip into the ball and have better results.

Perhaps the tough part about using the hybrid is that you’ll likely have to adjust the length of the swing for the distance you’ll want to cover. A little practice goes a long way with this shot, try a few swings with your most lofted hybrid using the clock system. swinging the lead arm to parallel to the ground would be 9:00. A little more would be 10:00 and so on.
If you want more precision, the best play is to take one more club than usual from that distance, grip down on the club to insure a slightly thin strike, set your feet and make a 3/4 swing using mostly the upper body so you don’t slip in the sand. Again, a little practice on this shot goes along way.

The worst shot is the fat or chunked shot out of the fairway bunker…To insure you don’t do that, use the hybrid or grip down on an extra club and swing 3/4. And…..maybe even practice for a few minutes in a fairway bunker.

Senior Director, Academy Development U.S. Kids Golf, Longleaf Golf & Family Club
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Think Tempo in the Bunker

Hitting a full shot from a fairway bunker, to a target that is far away should feel easy. Truth is, the player should hit the ball first, when striking a full shot to a target far away. Only in a green-side bunker should we hit behind the bar.

The problem that we all face is “thinking too much!” Treat a fairway bunker lie simply; just as if it were lying in the green grass of the fairway. Take a few practice swings on the outside of the bunker, first. Use a soft grip pressure. Keep your head still. Relax your muscles, as usual! Then, confidently enter the bunker, address your golf shot and swing exactly the same way as you would if your ball were in the fairway grass! Strike the ball first and you will hit a clean shot, effortlessly, out of the fairway bunker and to your target. Keep it simple! Don’t think too much! Enjoy!

The Country Club of Virginia
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Keep It Simple in Fairway Bunkers

The art of hitting out of a fairway bunker isn’t “picking it clean”. It just takes the ability to hit the ball first. This is the same skill that you need to hit the ball off the fairway. This idea of “picking it clean” actually causes amateurs to do some interesting things that actually cause more problems.

When an amateur gets in a fairway bunker and sees the lip that they have to get over and then try to pick it off the sand, they usually end up trying to help the ball up by falling back onto their trail foot and extending the lead wrist early in a scooping fashion. This almost always makes the player hit the sand first. This is the exact problem they were trying to avoid.

Instead, make a few key modifications and then hit like you would on the fairway. First, pick a lofted club that will get over the lip even if you hit it a little low. Don’t get too aggressive. This will help you resist the temptation of the fade away scoop. Second, play the ball slightly back in your stance and set your weight a little more on your lead foot. This will help you hit the ball first. From there swing normal, just like the fairway. Maybe don’t try to nuke it, but the less you over analyze and more you hit the ball first, you’ll be fine.

Director of Instruction GOLFTEC Westminster
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Fairway Bunker Shots can be intimidating at first glance. Especially if you’re facing a high front lip of the bunker between you and your intended target. The best thing to do before even thinking about what you’re going to do is take a deep breath and relax. This is not as difficult a shot as you think, unless you plan to get greedy.

Realize that all golf shots are opportunities to solve a problem. In this case, the variables to your problem are you’re ball does not lie on grass, your feet will most likely shift a little as you swing, and it’s job #1 to strike the ball first with the club that will get the ball flying over the lip and as far as possible, without causing you an extra stroke.

Solve the problem in a logical order, understanding how fluffy or dry the sand may be and take your stance in the sand by gentle pivoting your feet so they sink in the sand no more than .5 inches. As you do so, insure that your ball position is no farther forward than the middle of your stance. And chose the club that insures when struck properly, the ball will clear the lip in front of you. Sometimes that will mean your shot will end up short of a green. Be willing to accept the punishment and go about your problem solving to insure you don’t cost yourself an extra stroke trying to play a super hero shot that is not within your arsenal of shot ability.

And if all else fails as a beginner golfer and you’re looking to have fun and not torture yourself, toss the ball back in the fairway and make a not that fairway bunkers is a phase of your skills you need to practice the next time your scheduled to see your coach.

John Hughes Golf
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Evaluate / Strategize / Execute

For many amateurs, escaping a bunker can be a really scary thing. But it really doesn’t have to be if you know how to approach the shot. Let’s just clear up one thing first. There is one major difference between escaping a green side bunker and a fairway bunker. In a green side bunker you hit the sand first with a lob or sand wedge to blast the ball out. In a fairway bunker, you hit the ball first (just like any normal shot) with almost any club that you’d hit off the ground. The key thing in a fairway bunker (or any bunker for that matter) is to first evaluate a couple of important factors.

How’s the lie? Is it sitting up or is it a fried egg? If it’s a really bad lie (like a fried egg) you’ll probably just have to blast it out with a sand or lob wedge by laying up and treating it like a green side bunker shot then.

Also, another key factor is how close the lip of the bunker is in front of you. If it’s pretty close, then you may just have to lay up with a more lofted club. Ultimately, the closer your ball is to the lip the more loft you must use and likewise the further you are from the lip the more free you are to hit that longer (less lofted) club.

Then, it’s to strategize with a club selection and shot type based on those factors.

And finally it’s just to execute the shot with confidence, as executing any shot with fear can oftentimes lead to bad rhythm and overall poor ball striking.

A couple of other tips to help you make that clean strike in fairway bunkers are to really plant your feet and build a stance over the ball and play the ball just a little further back in your stance than normal as well to promote that good ball first contact.

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Think Thin

When hitting a normal fairway bunker shot (without a high lip on the bunker), it is a much easier shot when the Amateur can think about hitting the shot thin on purpose. You do not want to hit much if any sand when hitting from a fairway bunker. This is easy to practice by finding a spot on the range that is hard pan or dirt. It is also very important to be sure to hit a club with enough loft to clear the lip.

Overall, hitting from a fairway bunker is a much easier shot then most Amateurs believe, keep it simple and think thin.

Mattawang Golf Club
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Don't aim at them!

Don’t hit your driver if you think you can reach the fairway bunker…If you do get in just hover your club over the ball and hit down on it…Hybrids are the best out of fairway bunkers…

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Pick Your Poison

The best way to describe a good fairway bunker shot is one that gets out and travels to a safer spot. Trying to be a hero or hitting a perfect shot isn’t a great goal. I always like to pick and order of how to play these shots.

1- Can I get this club over the lip?
2- Will this club cover any bunkers or hazards in line with the green?
3-Will a slightly thin shot be better than fat?

Once these questions are answer pick the appropriate shot and trust your decision.

Nick Duffy Golf
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Quiet the lower body

Take one extra club and swing smoother with minimal lower body movement and feel like you stay tall through impact. This will help you make ball first contact. It’s really about getting the ball out of the bunker and back into a scoring position.

Full Swing Golf
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Change your focus point for solid contact

In a fairway bunker we hear all the normal mechanics of keep your feet and body quite to make clean contact and that’s all good and well but here’s the real secret. Take plenty of club for the distance needed but focus on the front edge or just forward of the ball for a great strike. Most people tell me they look at the back of the ball yet that causes sand first in the fairway bunker shots. Use this trick even off the fairway for good, crisp contact, you’ll be glad you did!!?️‍♀️

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Fairway bunkers

Fairway bunkers are tough. Most places don’t have an area to practice them, so it can be difficult to get proficient at it.

My best advice is to make sure you take a club with enough loft to get the ball out. Depending on your skill set pulling a club that can get to the green may not launch high enough to clear the lip of the bunker.

Sometimes its just best to take your medicine and make sure you get out on your first shot. It is still possible to safe par or worst case bogey if your playing your next shot from the fairway.

Flagler Golf Academy
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Fairway Bunker Play

If you struggle from Fairway Bunkers play to a strength hit a more lofted club and into play. Then when have time to practice start to try the following, take a Mid Iron grip down 1 inch, play the golf ball a bit back in the stance. From there focus on a spot an inch in front of the ball then make your swing make solid contact and make par from a safe and good place.

Fox Hollow Golf Club
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