Greenside Bunkers

Don’t Fear the Sand: The Complete Guide to Greenside Bunkers

Are you ready to finally learn how to hit out of greenside bunkers?

Amateur golfers fear greenside bunkers as much as the first tee with a group of people standing around.

But I’m here to tell you that there is nothing to fear.

Hitting out of the sand doesn’t have to be hard.

In fact, when you’re done reading the complete guide to getting out of greenside bunkers, you might even start aiming for them.

Okay, well maybe not quite aim for them but you get the point. Hitting out of the sand doesn’t need to be a scary experience anymore.

Once you overcome the mental blocks and learn the fundamentals of greenside bunkers, you can become a great sand player.

But that’s the thing, most golfers don’t address the mental side of golf or learn the basics to the sand!

Whether you’re hitting an epic flop shot, playing the bump and run, chipping, hitting a low spinning wedge or even a standard greenside bunker shot, you have to start with the fundamentals.

Here’s everything you will ever need to know when it comes to hitting out of greenside bunkers. If you are looking for help with fairway bunkers, click here.

Getting Over the Fear of Bunkers

What’s your biggest fear in golf? Is it…

  • Hitting out of the sand?
  • Missing a two-foot putt?
  • Topping it off the first tee?
  • Skulling a wedge over the green?

If you have more than one, don’t worry, you’re not alone. All golfers play two games. The one externally where people can see the shots and one inside where it’s you vs. you.

Understanding the mental side of golf is a huge part of the game. As Sam Snead said, “Of all the hazards, fear is the worst.”

And part of that mental game comes down to addressing the shots you fear.

It’s time to address those fears before diving into the fundamentals. If you’re experiencing fear toward any shot, you must address it head-on.

Get a lesson, read a book, watch a video…do whatever it takes to learn it. Then get to the course work on it!

If your fear is hitting out of the sand, let’s first address a stat that should ease some of those fears.

Did you know that according to the PGA Tour, “The average PGA TOUR percentage is a shade over 50 percent (through the RBC Canadian Open), with K.J. Choi converting 70.48 percent of his sand save opportunities thus far in 2013.”

Yes, the best players in the world only get sand saves roughly 5 out of 10 attempts.

So let’s start there. If you think you should hit it close from every bunker shot, think again.

Similar to understanding the average greens in regulation, it’s important to know how top players perform in the sand. Knowing this stat alone should help you take the pressure off yourself.

For the majority of amateur golfers, the goal of hitting out of the sand is to get it out and give yourself a chance to make the putt. If you make bogey, don’t beat yourself up…the pros do it too!

Now that we’ve addressed the fear of bunkers and curbed your expectations, let’s get into the fundamentals of hitting out of greenside bunkers.

Greenside Bunker Shot

Greenside Bunker Technique 101

Hitting great bunker shots starts with setting up with the right technique. You can’t play this like a normal shot as your club never even hits the ball!

Yes, remember that your club never actually touches the golf ball. Here’s how you need to adjust your technique accordingly.

Change Your Address Position

The first thing to do when you get into a standard greenside bunker is to adjust your posture. You need to have a little bit of extra knee bend at address.

The reason?

You want 90% of the swing to come from your arms and have very little lower body movement. Squatting down more than normal will give you a stable base to keep you lower body firmly planted in the sand.

You also want a slightly wider stance than normal. This will also help keep your feet cemented in the sand and give your arms more freedom.

Adjust Your Weight

Have you ever checked your weight distribution at setup when you hit bunker shots?

If you’re suffering from skulling shots or hitting them thin, one reason might be your weight. If your weight isn’t more on your front foot, it’s easy to sail a few long of your target.

You want to have 60-70% of your weight on your forward leg.

This will make it easy to hit down and behind the ball with a steep attack angle. If you’re more 50-50 or worse, 40-60, you’re going to hit up on the shot producing a skull.

Remember, you need to hit down and behind the ball to make it pop up and out of the sand.

Open Your Stance

To hit great sand shots you have to open the clubface. But when you open the clubface with a square stance, you are going to be aimed right of the target.

To adjust, make sure that you open your stance. Align your feet, hips, and shoulder to the left of the target. This will automatically help you take the club out to in and cut across the ball at impact.

Lower Your Hands

Once you go wide with your stance and have the weight on your front foot, drop your hands as well. Lowering the handle will allow you to expose the bounce of the club more and open the clubface.

Remember, as Bob Vokey said, “Bounce is your friend.”

Position the Ball Front of Center

This is another crucial part of hitting good bunker shots…your ball position. The ideal ball position for bunkers shots is in the front-middle part of your stance.

If it’s too far in the front, it’s hard to get enough sand. If the ball is too far back in your stance, it’s easy to chop down on it, hit it fat, and leave it in the bunker.

While you might change the position slightly for long bunker shots, this is the ideal position for most golfers. If you’re more skilled, you can put it an inch further up which will help you get less sand and produce more spin.

Choke Up and Lighten Up

A good rule of thumb is to choke up one inch on the club for a standard bunker shot. If the ball is below your feet, don’t choke up at all. The more the ball is above your feet, you should choke up 1-2 inches.

This will give you more control and allow you to get the club up quickly on your backswing.

Also, check your grip pressure. So many players are so terrified of bunkers that they get tense and put a death grip on the club. This will only make things worse!

Bunker shots require a lot of finesse and feel to pull them off. You can’t do that if you’re choking the grip. Instead, try to have a 4-5 out of 10 for grip pressure. This will make it easier to cock your wrists quickly.

Open the Clubface

For the most part, amateur golfers are terrified of opening the clubface in the sand. Just like the fear of opening the face to hit a flop shot, it gives so many players fear that if they open it they will hit it fat and leave in the bunker. Or they’ll hit a groove low and blade it over the green.

It’s time to dispel that myth once and for all. To hit consistently good bunker shots, you have to open the clubface, probably more than you think!

Remember, you’re not touching the ball with the club. You’re hitting the sand which then throws the ball out of the bunker and on the green.

Just watch any PGA Tour pro on TV and you will notice their clubface is wide open at address. This allows them to consistently make great contact and hit all types of shots from bunkers.

Take Some Sand

I know I’ve mentioned it already in this post but you can’t forget to take some sand. As you become more skilled in your golfing endeavors, you can hit closer to the ball and take less sand.

But for the majority of golfers, hitting 1-2 inches behind the ball is the perfect amount.

Cock Your Wrists Quickly

The arms are the primary muscles behind hitting out of the sand. You have to cock your wrists quickly and think of going up and down not around your body.

Remember, the majority of bunker shots aren’t long so you don’t need a huge swing to hit them. Keep it compact to hit crisp bunker shots.

Accelerate Through the Shot

Another huge mistake amateur golfers make is decelerating through impact. This is a big no-no in the bunker.

You need to have speed and accelerate through the shot. Otherwise, you will most likely plop the sand too far behind the ball and leave it in the bunker.

Finish High

As you accelerate through the shot, make sure you finish your swing. The goal is to keep the clubface open through impact and finish high.

Some golfers like Jason Day prefer to finish super high as if it’s a full shot. While others, like Tiger, prefer a mid-waist finish. Test them both out and see which one produces the best shots.

How to Hit From Greenside Bunkers

Now that you have the right technique and fundamentals to hit from greenside bunkers, it’s time to pull the shot off. While the form is crucial, you also need to follow these tips before hitting out of the beach.

While it might feel like a lot, you’re probably already doing a lot of these moves right already. But it’s still a good refresher and something you can always go back to in the future.

1. Assess The Lie and Shot

Like chipping and pitching, your lie plays a huge role in what type of bunker shot you can pull off. The three main types of lies are clean, buried (or plugged), and a fried egg. We’ll cover how to hit from each shot in the next section.

Once you’ve evaluated the lie, it’s time to strategize your ideal shot. Is it a short-sided shot or do you have some green to work with? Is there trouble long if you hit it thin? What’s the best shot overall?

The more of a gameplan you create for bunker shots, the more you can reduce fear when you go in. Keep it simple and play the shot that will give you a chance to make a putt.

2. Choose the Right Wedge

Now that you have an idea of what type of shot you’re going to play from the bunker, it’s time to determine the right weapon to use. Most golfers carry 3-4 wedges. The sand and shot are the two biggest factor in selecting the right club to use.

  • For example, if the sand is super fluffy you want to choose a club with high bounce to glide through the sand.
  • If the sand is firm, you want one with less bounce like 60*04 lob wedge.
  • If you have a 20-30 yard bunker shot, a gap or pitching wedge might be the best way to go.
  • A longer bunker shot means you will keep the clubface square and take a longer swing. Doing it with a lob wedge might require you to feel like too big of a swing.

3. Stick to a Routine

Another important part of hitting it out of bunkers is having a consistent pre-shot routine. While it can differ (and probably should differ) from your full swing, it’s vital to have a go-to routine. This will allow you to take away pressure, not overthink the shot and pull the trigger.

With any good pre-shot routine, don’t forget to visualize and see where the ball lands and where it ends up.

4. Pick a Target

Golfers are constantly thinking things like “Don’t leave it in the bunker” or “Don’t skull it long.” If you’re doing this, it is setting yourself up for failure!

Like any shot, it’s crucial to know where your target it is.

You have to focus on what you want, not what you don’t want to happen.

Try to find a specific target that you can focus on. Whether it’s just over the fringe, a dark spot on the green or a ridge, try to find something. This will give your mind something to focus on and hopefully hold away the negative thoughts in the process.

5. Commit to the Shot

Once you’re ready to pull the trigger, take a breath and go. Commit 100% to the shot you want to hit.

Once you’ve hit it, accept the results and move on.

If you leave in the sand (it happens to the best of us), regroup, and do it again. Keep breathing and don’t let your temper get the best of you.

Different Sand Conditions

Another part of hitting sand shots out of greenside bunkers is learning how to hit out of different types of sand and different conditions. For example, if you live in Florida the sand is much different than the sand in the other parts of the world.

Knowing how to hit out of different types of sand is a great way to adapt to new conditions and give yourself the best chance to get it up and down.

One thing to do is evaluate the sand when you get into the bunker. See if you can feel how much your feet will dig in (or not) into the sand. This way you can see if it’s fluffy or firm.

How to Hit From Fluffy Sand

Fluffy sand wrecks havoc on some golfers. To hit it well, you have to open the clubface a lot and swing harder than normal to get through all that extra sand.

Bounce plays a bigger role when you’re hitting from fluffy sand. Make sure that you choose the wedge that has the most bounce.

This will allow it to through the extra sand easily. Otherwise, don’t change a thing. Keep it simple!

How to Hit From Wet Sand

Wet sand tends to happen when you play early in the morning and if you’re playing winter golf. Believe it or not, this is actually the easiest type of sand to hit out from consistently.

When it’s a little bit wet, it’s easier to make contact and not take too much sand. Keep everything normal and commit to hitting it one-two inches behind the ball.

How to Hit From Firm (Rock Hard) Sand

Rock hard sand is very challenging for most golfers. If you find yourself in a bunker that feels like you’re hitting off of pavement, don’t try to do too much from the lie.

For this type of shot, you don’t want the bounce exposed so don’t open the clubface much, if it at all. Instead, opt for your lowest bounce sand wedge.

Play the ball in the middle of your stance and don’t expect the ball to get too high as you can’t open the face much. Try to take a more square to square swing instead of cutting across it like a normal bunker shot.

Lastly, keep your weight evenly distributed (50/50). If you put too much on your front foot, it’s easy to bounce the wedge off the sand. Since you’re not getting much sand on hard or rocky lies, try to nip it right behind the ball.

How to Hit a Plugged Bunker Shot

The plugged bunker shot happens to everyone. It usually happens when you hit a high shot and the sand is super soft. If you find yourself in this situation, first take a deep breath. Getting mad and upset won’t make the shot any easier.

Next, evaluate the shot and where you are located to the pin.

With a plugged lie, you’re not going to be able to spin the ball at all since its buried.

This means you need to anticipate a ton of forward spin.

Remember, even pros in the best lies get it up and down about 50% so don’t try to do too much with this lie. Get more of your weight on your front foot and hit down on the ball. You should get more sand than normal and not have much of a follow through.

How to Hit a Fried Egg Bunker Shot

Equally as frustrating as the buried lie is the dreaded fried egg. If this sand is pretty soft and fluffy, it’s actually easier than the buried lie.

Don’t do much different than normal except for two small adjustments.

  • Get a little more weight on your front foot to steepen your attack angle
  • Hit behind the ball a full 2-3 inches.
  • This shot will also roll out so plan accordingly.

How to Hit a 30-60 Yard Bunker Shot

In Tiger Woods book, “How I Play Golf,” he said the 30-60 yard bunker shot is the hardest in the game. It’s hard because it’s in between how to play a greenside bunker shot and not long enough to hit like a fairway bunker shot.

Here’s how you can do it:

  • Set up slightly open to the target
  • Keep a sand or gap wedge square at address. If it’s a longer shot, go with a pitching wedge or 9-iron.
  • Swing like a normal bunker shot and hit one inch behind the ball.
  • Keep your head still and maintain a smooth tempo. Make sure to accelerate through the golf ball to a complete finish position.

Final Thoughts: Get Out and Practice Your Bunker Game

I’ve talked about the fear of bunkers a lot in this article and one way to end your fear of the sand is to start practicing more regularly. Even if it’s a few minutes after work, get in there and put this stuff to use. Here are 10 short game drills for your bunker game and other short game shots. You can’t just know this stuff, you have to train it on the practice area.

Once you get the standard shot down, try out different lies and practice the impossible shot as well. Remember, the harder you make it in practice, the easier it’ll be when you’re playing. Try out different wedges, different length shots, and different lies.

The more you’re in the bunker, the more comfortable you will feel when you’re playing. Find your go-to shoot so you can walk into the bunker with confidence and give yourself the best chance to get it up and down.

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