10 ways to simplify greenside bunker shots

When faced with a difficult greenside bunker shot, GOLF Top 100 Teacher Kellie Stenzel says focus on these 10 things to have success

Make life easier from greenside bunkers by following these tips.

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Hitting from a greenside bunker can be difficult, but it sure doesn’t have to be. It just takes an understanding of setup and proper execution, allowing yourself to not only get out of the sand, but also get as close to the pin as possible.

In order to make hitting from greenside bunkers a strength of your game, follow the 10 tips below — which will give you all the tools you need to see success.

Do this to make greenside bunker shots easier

While nobody wants to hit from the sand, it’s bound to happen at some point. Instead of getting anxiety about this type of shot, simply follow these “rules” — which will help lead you toward the success you’re seeking from greenside bunkers.

1. The clubs

There are an abundance of club options to choose from when you’re in a greenside bunker — like a sand wedge, lob wedge, and a gap wedge (which everyone should have, in my opinion). The reason these are the right clubs is due to their loft, and, more importantly, the fact that they have a rounded bottom called bounce. So what does the bounce do? It simply allows the club to glide through the sand and avoid digging.

2. Take sand with a long divot

On a greenside bunker shot, the basic goal is to throw sand out of the trap when you swing. I like to see a relatively long divot, and, assuming the ball is anywhere within this divot, you’ll have enough momentum to get the ball out of the bunker and onto the green — which is a big victory for the mid-handicapper.

Having a proper setup will help you take sand while swinging, and since the ball position is more forward in your stance, this allows the club to naturally enter the sand before the ball.

3. Clubface: open or not?

Do you need to open your clubface when you’re in the greenside bunker? Some people would say “absolutely,” whereas others might respond with a simple “no” — so it all depends on your club choice and skillset.

I absolutely don’t want you to close the face, since this tends to make the club dig too much when hitting the sand. But if you’re a golfer with high clubhead speed (like great Tour players have), then you might consider opening it up more.

4. Shaft angle at address and impact

In order for the loft and bounce to work when the wedge hits the sand, the club shaft shouldn’t lean towards the target. If you make the mistake of doing this at address, once you come into your downswing, your leading edge is likely going to get stuck in the sand — decreasing club velocity and likely not having enough on your swing at impact to get the ball out of the sand.

Remember, becoming a short game master takes practice, so work on some of the above to get your technique down.

5. Your technique must match swing speed

Speaking of technique, your swing speed and power have a direct influence on what technique you should use for distance control. I think this is why so many golfers struggle with greenside bunker shots.

For example, going back to opening the clubface, if you’re an average golfer, doing this will lead to the ball going higher and shorter — which can throw off your technique and swing speed during a shot.

Also remember to avoid letting the bunker lip trick you into thinking that you need to open the face. Instead, consider the total distance and choose the right club for that number.

6. Avoid the (bad) habit of scooping

You don’t need to lift the ball or help get it over the lip on a greenside bunker shot — yet so many amateurs fall into this bad habit. So if you tend to do this, you’ll struggle with contact.

Instead of leaning back and trying to scoop the ball, get very good at taking your full golf swing, making sure your throw sand out of the bunker. This can best be practiced by ditching the ball and taking practice swings with your club — which helps get you the feeling of throwing sand from the trap.

7. Try this scrape drill

One of my favorite drills to practice greenside bunker shots is something called a scrape drill.

From setup, don’t take a backswing, and simply practice scraping the sand in a circular path to finish. This will train you to feel the proper motion, helping you get the club’s bounce into the sand in order to use the club’s loft correctly.

8. Practice throwing sand

Once you learn to make a more normal swing with a square clubface that splashes the sand, you’ll become a more respectable bunker player. I got really good in the bunker by simply practicing this motion, which helped me understand the proper swing speed.

9. Try a gap wedge

Remember earlier when I said every player should have a gap wedge in their bag? Here’s why: Longer bunker shots.

One of the simplest ways to hit a longer greenside bunker shot is to keep the face square (and the gap wedge has loft and bounce already). So play the ball forward and dig your feet into the sand. Now, just make a regular full swing to generate speed and remember to spray sand.

The gap wedge is a great solution and can help you hone a brilliant skill.

10. How to deal with packed sand or a bad lie

There always seems to be an exception to the rules of golf, which makes the game both interesting and complicated at times. The exception to the above suggestions is if the ball is in a bad lie in the sand, or if the sand is particularly packed hard. Hard packed sand will often cause the wedge’s bounce to drop-kick off the ground — leading to a skulled shot.

If you step into a greenside bunker and recognize the sand looking packed, adjust your setup by leaning your weight and the shaft forward toward the target — which now engages the leading edge so it can actually dig. This is very different from the above tips, and almost the exact opposite of a normal bunker lie.

But by making this setup adjustment, the leading edge will dig and allow it to get into the sand, so it can avoid the dropkick miss. When you lean the shaft, the club will be less lofted, so the ball will likely come out lower and produce more roll. So, when doing this, I always suggest going with a more lofted wedge.

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Nick Dimengo

Golf.com Editor