If you’re like most amateur golfers, you dread hitting out of fairway bunkers. You probably cringe whenever you see your ball slowly roll into the bunker.
And I bet the entire ride to the shot you’re thinking about it.
You’re probably thinking…do I swing harder? Club up? Lay up? Is the lip going to get in my way? And so many other thoughts that are ruining your chances of hitting it solid out of the fairway bunker.
So, how do you hit it out a fairway bunker? The truth is, not much changes from a normal shot. Sure, there are a few small adjustments, but most of the work happens before you actually hit the shot.
If you can learn how to evaluate your lie, commit to the shot, and make a few tweaks, I’m confident you’ll be able to act like it’s no big deal the next time your shot ends up in the sand.
And once you start hitting a few balls pure, without hitting the lip, your confidence will skyrocket.
Here’s everything you need to learn how to hit fairway bunker shots. If you are looking for help with greenside bunkers, go to this article.
As I mentioned, a lot of the work for hitting a good fairway bunker shots happens before you ever swing the club. Here’s what I mean:
Your lie determines almost everything when you’re in a fairway bunker. The better the lie, the more you can do with the shot. The worse the lie, the more cautious and strategic you have to play.
Once you check your lie, ask yourself the following questions:
- What is my distance to the target? (always use a rangefinder)
- If I wasn’t in the bunker would I be able to make it to the green?
- If so, what club would I use?
- Is there trouble that can cost me a shot or two if I don’t carry it a certain distance? Make sure to notate if there is out of bounds, water or another hazard.
- Is the lip going to be a problem for the distance and expected club I’ll need?
Once you’ve quizzed yourself, then you can figure out the ideal shot you want to hit. Most golfers skip a lot of these questions and try to hit the shot as if they’re not in the sand.
Don’t try to do too much, so many amateur golfers mess up by trying to pull off a 1 in 100 shot instead of playing smart.
The next step is learning what clubs to hit and what clubs not to hit from the fairway bunker. If you’re a beginning player, I wouldn’t recommend much more than 7 or 8 iron from any fairway bunker. If you’re a more experienced player, there’s no reason you can’t use longer irons or even hybrids.
Plus, the lip is a huge factor. If there is hardly any lip it might even be a good idea to hit a hybrid out of the bunker. It’s more forgiving and will help get you closer to the green.
Once you know your ideal shot and what club to hit, here are the fundamentals of hitting it pure every time.
The key to hitting it solid from fairway bunkers is to choke up one inch. This works because you can control the ball more and help you not get as much sand. As you’re shortening the club, you want to make sure to club up at least one club. If the distance normally requires a 9-iron, you want to hit an 8-iron from the sand.
Swinging hard and trying to get too much out of the club is another huge mistake so many golfers make. You want smooth and controlled!
In a fairway bunker, you need to stand slightly closer to the ball and try to pick it off the sand. You want a very minimal divot, the less sand you can take the better.
You want the ball ever so slightly back of where you normally address that specific club. For example, with a 7-iron, play the ball in the center of your stance and grip down on the club about an inch.
All short irons should be played just back of center in your stance. Too far in the front makes it easy to hit it super thin and probably end up hitting the lip.
Your lower body needs to stay quiet with fairway bunkers. This is one of the biggest keys to success!
If you have too much lower body movement, it’s easy to lose your footing and stability mid-swing. Take a slightly wider stance and dig your feet into the sand. You’ll want to dig in way more for greenside bunker shots but just enough for traction on this type of shot.
You want to make sure that your chin is raised so you can get your left shoulder underneath it and complete your shoulder turn. As you’re primarily going to use your upper body, it’s important to have enough room to get a full turn.
Remember, as you have an extra club, there is no need to try and kill it out of a fairway bunker. Too much lower body movement will lead to slipping and a big miss.
If you end up hitting it thin, no problem. You’re better off catching the ball a little thin than sticking the clubhead in the sand and leaving it in the beach. Try to hit slightly down on the ball just like an iron shot. Think about contacting the ball and then the sand.
Focus on maintaining the height of your sternum and your knee flex throughout the swing. If you dip at all, you’re going to hit behind the ball which you absolutely don’t want in fairway bunkers.
You have to be highly skilled to pick it right off the sand. If you take some sand after the ball, you’re giving yourself a little extra margin for error.
The last step is committing to the shot. Most players are so scared of timid they only think about what they don’t’ want to happen. This is usually two things; not hit the lip and not leave it in the bunker. And most of the time, both probably happen.
Use visualization in your pre-shot routine to picture the shot coming off the club with solid contact and ending up at your intended target. Never focus on what you don’t want to happen (i.e. hitting the lip and having to do it all over again, only closer to the lip).
Have you ever noticed what part of the ball you’re looking at when you’re standing over the ball on any shot? For some reason, most golfers don’t until they become aware of it.
For fairway bunkers, focus your eyes on the front of the ball, and not the back as you would on most full swings. This will bring your sternum and body’s center of gravity forward and promote ball-first contact.
As Tiger Woods said in his amazing book, “How I Play Golf”,
“No doubt about it, the toughest shot to play well consistently is the long explosion. By long, I mean a shot of about 30 yards — too long to play with your greenside bunker technique, too short to play like you would a full shot from a fairway bunker.”
And I’d agree with Tiger. This is arguably one of the hardest shots in golf. It’s just awkward, even for the pros!
Here’s how you can master the long bunker shot and impress your buddies the next time you end up in one:
- Use a longer club than your normal sand wedge. Instead, opt for 8 or 9 iron (I realize this might feel awkward at first)
- Address the ball and stay open to the target. You still want to be able to turn freely as you’ll need a bigger swing for a longer carry.
- Unlike greenside bunker shots, you don’t want to open the face nearly as much.
- Aim about an inch behind the ball. Remember, you still need to take sand or else you’re going to thin it way over the green.
- Keep your head still and make a ¾ swing with a ¾ follow through. You always to create speed when hitting out of the bunker so make sure to accelerate through the shot.
- And remember, the longer the shot, the longer the club.
I’m confident if you follow these tips you’re going to hit it pure from any fairway bunker. The biggest thing to remember is to evaluate the lie and shot before selecting your club. Once you’re confident on your desired outcome, then you can select the right club.
Remember, don’t get carried away and try to do too much with your bunker shot. If you have to choose between the lip and ending up 15 or 20 yards shot, choose the more lofted club and get closer to the green. This almost always ensures a lower score for the hole and not leaving it in the beach.
Lastly, make sure you’re committed to the shot. Don’t stand over the ball timid and scared, think of it as just another iron shot.