How to improve your bunker shots and control distance
If you watch golf on TV from time to time, you already know one thing to be true – professional golfers are incredible from greenside bunkers. While this is a shot that most amateur golfers hate to encounter, it would seem that the pros relish in the chance to show off their skills.
Given a good lie and enough room to work with, the average pro golfer will splash the ball up to within a couple feet of the hole time after time. It is truly impressive to watch, and it is one of the many reasons that these players are able to shoot scores under par on a regular basis.
Bunker Shot Basics
As you already know, hitting great bunker shots is not as easy as the pros make it look. However, it doesn't have to be that hard, either. If you are able to use a sound technique when blasting the ball from the sand, you should be able to at least get onto the putting surface more often than not.
Before we get into the specific topic of controlling distance from the sand, lets first highlight some of the main fundamentals for this kind of shot. Those fundamentals are as follows:
#1 Make a Big Swing
You need to make a big swing even from a greenside bunker if you are going to generate enough speed to cut through the sand effectively.
#2 Have an Open Stance
Standing with your feet open to the target line will make it easier to slice under the ball, and the ball should come out a bit higher as well.
#3 Put a Flex in the Knees
You need to get down to the ball properly when in a bunker, which means you need to flex your knees rather significantly at address. Remember, you are trying to swing under the ball rather than actually hitting it with the club head.
#4 Hit the Sand Behind the Ball
The key to an explosion shot from near the green is putting the club into the sand at least an inch or two behind the ball at the bottom of the swing.
With that quick refresher on the basics of a greenside bunker shot out of the way, we can quickly move on to the topic of how you are to control your distance on these shots.
Trajectory and Spin
The two main elements that you are going to need to manipulate if you want to control the distance of your greenside bunker shots are trajectory and spin. If you can gain control over both of these parts of a greenside bunker shot, you will have no trouble hitting the ball the right distance consistently. Pro golfers are able to handle both halves of this equation, which is why their bunker play is so consistent.
On the trajectory side, you want to use a lower flight when you are facing a longer shot, and a higher flight when playing a shorter shot. Obviously, you have to consider the lip of the bunker in this choice, as whatever shot you play needs to have enough height to get out of the sand safely.
If the hole is all the way on the other side of the green for instance, playing the shot low with plenty of roll is the right pick. However, if the hole is cut just outside the bunker where you are standing, a higher shot is the only way to stop the ball quick enough to set up a short putt.
In most cases, your spin rate is going to go along with the trajectory that you choose to use for a given shot. For example, a bunker shot with a low trajectory probably won't have much spin, so the ball will roll out after it lands. On the other hand, if you catch the shot just right to toss the ball high into the air, it should have enough spin to stop it quickly when it lands.
With experience, you will learn how to accurately predict your trajectory and spin in order to set the ball close to the hole time after time.
Knowing the Conditions
One of the commonly overlooked keys to the greenside bunker shot is understanding the course conditions that you are facing. In general, there are three specific elements related to course condition that you need to consider while playing from a greenside bunker.
#1 Speed of the Greens
You should already be comfortable with the speed of the greens, as you need to dial this part of the game in as part of your warm up if you are going to putt well. Naturally, quick greens will offer more run out than will slow greens, so factor this into the planning of your shot.
#2 Firmness of the Greens
The first bounce that you get when your ball lands on the green has a lot to do with where the shot is going to end up in the end. If the greens are hard, you will get a big first bounce, while soft greens may not give you any bounce at all.
#3 Firmness and Depth of the Sand
The sand under your ball is another key element in this equation, so don't forget to factor it into your planning. If the sand is deep and soft, the ball will usually come out with a lower spin rate. On the other hand, shallow and firm sand promotes a shot that comes out quick with plenty of spin.
It shouldn't surprise you to learn that the best way to control your distance consistently from greenside bunkers is to practice these kinds of shots as often as possible. It all comes down to feel in the end, and professional golfers regularly practice out of greenside bunkers in order to develop their feel.
By using the tips above along with plenty of practice, you should be able to gradually improve your touch from the sand.