Become a Sand Master: 3 tricks to rule the bunker

August 22, 2017

If your plan for greenside bunkers is simply to avoid them, good luck. Like death and taxes, finding sand traps is a certainty. Even Dustin Johnson visited the beach more than 120 times in 2016, and he was GOLF’s Player of the Year. Our advice: Beat your fears and get Zen in the bunker. Forget “blasting” these shots—think about “gliding” them. Pay attention, grasshopper.

Hitting quality sand shots is much easier than you think. “Take a seat” and limit your lower-body rotation. This setup adjustment makes the swing more about your arm action, which helps you better use the loft and bounce built into your wedge. Your club will glide through the sand instead of digging. Try the drill at right to become fearless in the toughest of traps. Are you ready? Greenside bunker shots are about to become a blast.


Few great bunker players stand tall in the sand. Most squat, knees bent, feet wide apart, toes pointed outward. This squat creates lower-body stability (less hip action, better bunker swing) and positions your hands lower to the ground. It also creates a slight cupping in your left wrist. Don’t overthink the cupping—just know that it adds effective loft and exposes the bounce angle on the sole. Your wedge is “dig-free.”

Take a seat on a den caddy at the range (photos, above) or on an adjustable chair that’s about the same height. Make your stance extra-wide and flare out your toes. Now swing. From a seated position, you can only move your arms and chest. That’s good! For high-spinning bunker blasts, just hinge your arms and wrists in your backswing, then, as I like to say, “let the angles out” coming down. After a few chair swings, remove the seat and repeat the same feel. Hold your squat until well after impact.


With your lower body less involved, your arm swing has to be dialed in. Groove the right moves by making right-arm-only practice swings. As you start down from the top, your main objective is to let out the angles in your right elbow and wrist through the hitting zone. The transition is key: Get the butt end of the club to point at the ball first, then actively “throw” the clubhead past your left thigh and keep the face open so that it points skyward in your release (third photo, above). When you release your right-side angles correctly, your right arm and the shaft will form a straight line as the club exits the sand—a great checkpoint.


The path your clubhead travels as it nears the sand largely determines the quality of your shot. Basically, if the clubhead is behind your hands as you deliver the club into impact, you’re going to catch the ball fat or thin. Instead, you want to approach the ball slightly from the outside. Try this: Stop your bunker-shot downswing when your hands reach waist height. Check that the clubhead sits slightly outside your hands (inset photo, right). If it does, continue your motion, swinging your arms past your stable lower body and past your left leg. Important—swing slightly left of your target, so that the clubhead exits low under your left armpit (large photo). If you correctly release the club with the face open, this out-to-in path will blast the ball straight at your target.