10 ways to conquer fairway bunkers, per top teacher

When you find yourself in a fairway bunker, use these 10 tips from GOLF Top 100 Teacher Kellie Stenzel for a swift recovery

Don't let fairway bunkers add frustrating strokes to your scorecard.

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Hitting from any type of sand can be tricky, but doing so from a fairway bunker can be extra challenging for plenty of amateur golfers.

With so many different distances, depths, and types of sand to be considered, if you don’t have the right setup and strategy, you can watch your scores balloon in a hurry.

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Do this for more success from fairway bunkers

Being a great fairway bunker player can help you avoid unnecessary strokes on a hole, and, by following these 10 tips, you’ll be on your way towards lower scores in no time.

1. The definition of a fairway bunker

A fairway bunker is a sand-filled area that sits alongside the fairway rather than near the green. They can be tricky to escape from, with many amateurs lacking the skill to make ball-first contact, rather than sand-first contact (as is the case with greenside traps).

2. Make ball-first contact

As mentioned above, it’s imperative to make ball-first contact (and then the sand) when hitting from a fairway bunker. Occasionally, players sometimes think they can try to pick the ball cleanly, meaning they don’t take any sand, but this can result in thin and topped shots which may not launch high enough over the lip of the bunker.

3. Dial in your club selection to avoid the lip

Your No. 1 priority is to clear the lip of the bunker and get the ball back into play — so remember: the higher the lip, the more club loft you need.

You should also consider your proximity to the lip when choosing your club. The closer you are to the lip, the sooner you need to get the ball into the air to get back into play — meaning you’ll need to use a more lofted club. When in doubt, I always suggest using a higher-lofted club, just to ensure you escape the fairway bunker on the first shot.

4. Always finish forward

When finishing your swing, make sure all the weight is on your front foot — and avoid any temptation to lift. Being in a balanced position where you can hold your finish with your normal pivot off your back foot (as you would in a full swing), is exactly the same when you’re in a fairway bunker.

Don’t let the lip trick you into trying to help the ball up by scooping or leaning back.

5. Use proper ball position

Like every golf shot, your ball position is really important — maybe even more so when in a fairway bunker — but it may vary a bit from player to player.

Your ball position should be center to slightly back in your stance, which will help you hit the ball first and then the sand. If you really struggle making contact with the sand first, I’d simply suggest moving your ball back more.

6. Narrow your stance

To help eliminate some side-to-side lateral body motion, always narrow your stance when hitting from a fairway bunker. This will also minimize the chance of having the club hit the sand first.

If you tend to take too much sand, I suggest narrowing your stance even more. If you tend to catch the ball too high or too thin, then using a less narrow stance is better. There’s a lot of personalization when it comes to bunker play, so play around with what’s best for any of your bad habits.

7. Wedge your back foot

By wedging your back foot into the sand (so that your little toe is higher than your big toe), you’ll also help eliminate too much side to side motion — which can cause you to mishit and contact the sand before the ball.

Wedging this foot can also help keep your body more on the target side of the ball, allowing you to make clean contact at impact.

8. Try a lofted hybrid

If you happen to carry a lofted hybrid in your bag (like a 6- or 5-hybrid), this could be the key for maximizing distance while also clearing the bunker’s lip — as long as you’re not right up next to the lip.

9. Determine the lie

Depending on your lie in a fairway bunker, you may need to play more conservatively rather than be aggressive.

For instance, if your ball is sitting down in the sand or the lip is just way too high, take your medicine, play the ball position more forward (as you would in a greenside bunker) and splash the ball out to the fairway. It’s not ideal, but that’s the smartest play to save yourself strokes.

10. Practice these types of shots

It can be tricky practicing fairway bunker shots, but in order to become a well-rounded golfer, it’s so important. This will help you determine which clubs you prefer from these situations, as well as where you prefer the ball to be positioned.

Another benefit of practicing from fairway bunkers is that it makes you learn ball-first contact. This is the key to improving your ball-striking in all areas of the game, understanding how to impact the ball and then the ground.

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Nick Dimengo

Golf.com Editor