Greenside Bunker Shots

Greenside Bunker Shots


I am going to discuss the popular subject of greenside bunker shots.  I have become quite amused with greenside bunker shots throughout my years in the golf business after seeing the many ways taught by teachers and top players.  My amusement evolved after seeing the fear of bunkers many golfers experience.  Many players don’t have the proper understanding of what to do when entering greenside bunkers.  Unfortunately, this often derives from an incorrect or improper understanding of concepts.  I want you to gain some understanding in approaching greenside bunker shots.  This will come from learning how top bunker players approach and play from greenside bunkers.  Once you understand what great bunker players actually do, I have a strong feeling that your fear for greenside bunker play will diminish.

My beliefs on greenside bunker play came from extensive study of top players hitting these shots.  I used hundreds of bunker shots from many different players on the world tours.  I set out to find which concepts tour professionals actually use on greenside bunker shots.  I set out to find what tour professionals where doing differently when playing greenside bunker shots compared to other short game shots.  What I found was interesting.

How do top players play from greenside bunkers?  The answer to this question might surprise you.  Great players were approaching bunker shots the same way they approach shots out of grass lies.  They were not making dramatic changes in technique.  The techniques they perfected from grass were equally beneficial from greenside bunkers.  In fact, the only slight change I noticed was in their setup.  What was this simple change that I saw in their setups?  It was merely a ball position more forward in their stances.  Everything else in their setups and techniques was the same as shots from turf lies.  It also instantly changed the way I approach and teach greenside bunker play.

How could players use the same techniques used from grass, while only changing their ball position?  The answer makes a great deal of sense.  Top short game players are great at using bounce on the wedge when hitting standard pitches, cut-pitches, and lob shots.  They use the sole of the club head wonderfully on all of these shots; a bunker shot is no different.  When the ball is placed forward in the stance, players know the club head will hit the sand before contacting the golf ball.  They also know with good bounce use, the club head will not dig too much underneath the sand.   They know bounce will help the club head rise back out of the sand and give them room for error.  Top players do not need to hit an exact spot behind the golf ball for bunker shots to be successful.  They have an area of a few inches where the club head can enter the sand and still have success. When making contact closer to the golf ball, the ball will come out and fly farther, but will stop quicker because of more spin.  When making contact farther behind the golf ball, the ball will come out and fly shorter, but will roll more due to having less spin.  There is room for error if bounce is used well.  This is the key to becoming a great bunker player.  The key is not a dramatic change in technique that I have heard many teach.  I have come to learn the people who greatly fear bunker shots are the same people who need improvement in short games outside of bunkers.  They do not realize they are using the same flaws they use in grass lies.  These flaws are more penalizing in bunkers due to the effect of sand.  People that struggle out of bunkers need to improve technique for all shots in their short game, not just their bunker shots.

Let’s discuss the texture of sand and its influence on greenside bunker play.  Sand can be very soft or firm.  Sand can have textures anywhere in between these extremes.  Many other variables can affect sand’s texture as well.  This includes the amount of sand, the type of sand, and the moisture content of the sand in bunkers.  A large amount of sand makes sand play softer.  Small amounts of sand make sand play firmer.  Granule sizes can also affect sand playability.  Fine granule sand will often play much softer than larger granule sand.  The moisture content of sand will also affect how it plays.  Sand that becomes wet plays firmer than when it is dry.  Understanding these affects is the first step before learning how to adjust.

When tour professionals play from softer sand conditions, they naturally take more sand out with their divots.  For this reason, they make small adjustments at address to use more bounce through impact.  These adjustments include opening the clubface more and making sure the ball is positioned slightly forward in the stance.

When tour professionals play from firmer sand conditions, they naturally take less sand out of with their divots.  For this reason, they make small adjustments at address to use less bounce through impact.  These adjustments include having a less open clubface and playing the golf ball less forward in the stance.  These adjustments help players make contact closer to the golf ball and not use as much bounce on firmer sand.  They also make less aggressive and slower swings from firmer sand.

The last part of analyzing the situation is analyzing the distance from the pin and the pin’s location.  Combined with the lie, these factors will determine whether players use a standard pitch, a cut-pitch, or a lob shot.  These are the same factors they use to determine this from grass lies.  If the player is facing a pin position with not much green to use, they will probably hit a cut-pitch or a lob.  If the player is facing a pin position with large amounts of green to use, they will probably hit a standard pitch or a slight cut-pitch.  They will hit similar types of shots to what they would from turf, not change their technique dramatically as many believe.

As for how tour professionals judge distance on greenside bunker shots, there is not much difference compared to grass lies either.  They are not consciously thinking about aggressiveness or length of swing, they are just looking at their targets and reacting.  They do the same thing from grass lies around greens.  The reason they are wonderful with this aspect is because of practice and hours of repetition.

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