For the amateur golfer, playing from the sand is almost an inevitability, especially with a number of area courses appearing to be especially fond of the greenside bunker feature. Today, let’s assume we’re all accurate enough to avoid fairway bunkers, and instead focus on the ominous green guardian. Contending with bunkers on approach shots are likely to be a more frequent concern. And once in the bunker, there’s few things as frustrating as watching the ball catch the lip and roll right back to your feet.
Unfortunately, as with most golf mistakes, there is no simple solution.
“There are so many facets to bunkers,” said Erroll Miller, head golf pro at Breckenridge Golf Club.
Deep bunkers, shallow bunkers, walls, wet sand, firm pack, dry, loose, the list goes on. While each bunker might be like a snowflake, there are a couple strategies worth keeping in mind.
“The biggest key is people try to lift the ball,” said Mark Nickel, course pro for the Raven at Three Peaks.
It’s similar to topping a ball on a drive. Golfers lift their shoulders and come out of their stance, causing them to hit the top of the ball, and not have a smooth follow through. This fault can be magnified in a bunker.
Nickel said he typically sees golfers swing as if they are helping to get the ball in the air. “Make sure you get under it,” he offered.
When in a bunker it’s important to remember that the bunker shot is the only shot in golf where the idea is to not hit the ball. Hit the sand behind and under the ball. There should be sand between the ball and the club and an open club face to increase loft.
And don’t be afraid to swing away.
While the resistance will vary substantially based on conditions, “you’ll hit it about half as far with sand,” Nickel said.
It’s more common to underestimate a swing than over shoot.
While each bunker shot is different, a good rule of thumb, according to the pros, is to open your stance, open the club and have the ball positioned slightly forward from center so the swing is sure to catch sand on the follow through.
And Nickel says to not get greedy. He sees golfers try to recover distance hitting from the bunker. He suggests that it’s generally more important to focus on loft.
Fighting the ‘fried egg’
The lucky golfer will hopefully find his ball sitting on top of the sand, or only slightly sunken. In those instances, the above suggestions will help. But for those times when the ball adds insult to injury and decides to lodge itself deep, only showing it’s top and creating what is known by golfers as a “fried egg,” Miller has another suggestion.
He said closing the club face will actually cause the club to dive deeper in the sand, and help get under the ball.
At the end of the day, Miller encourages taking a lesson. Having a pro observe is the easiest way to correct a multitude of potential mistakes and account for all the intricacies in playing from the bunker. “There’s so much to sand, you need a lot of tools,” he said.