Pros Teaching Joes: 5 things I learned from a bunker lesson with Viktor Hovland

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Viktor Hovland is one of the straightest drivers on the PGA Tour. He’s handy from the sand as well, as I learned when he offered me a lesson at Karsten Creek Golf Club, the home course of Oklahoma State, where Hovland played his collegiate golf. In his tutorial, Hovland gave me a slew of simple tips to improve my green-side bunker game. Here are five of the main takeaways.

1. Commit to a Club

Like a lot of golfers I know, I carry both 56- and 60-degree wedges, and I use one or the other depending on my lie, my mood, the alignment of the stars, and so on. Often, I’m not sure which will suit me best. Hovland told me to stop waffling. Pick one club and get comfortable with it, he said, “and then you can start experimenting.” (The 60-degree wedge is Hovland’s go-to from the sand.) It’s not as if you’re limiting yourself, he noted, because once you learn to use a single wedge correctly, “you can turn it into many different clubs.”

Viktor Hovland gives a bunker lesson.
Pick a club you are comfortable with and stick with it.

2. Speed is Your Friend

For any number of reasons — whether I’m trying to get too cute or I’m afraid of blading the ball over the green — I often swing slowly or decelerate on sand shots. The opposite is what you’re after, Hovland said. Lay the blade wide open and generate plenty of speed on your downswing, making sure to accelerate through impact. It takes practice and trust. But that’s how you get more height and spin.

Josh Sens hits from the bunker.
Make sure the blade is open and swing hard to generate speed.

3. Square your Stance

I’ve long tried to emulate the guys I see on TV, who often play their bunker shots with an open stance, swiping across the sand at impact. Bad idea, Hovland told me. That technique is great if you’ve got the talent and training of a Tour pro, especially when you’re short-sided. But Hovland doesn’t recommend it for the average amateur, as it’s a “tricky” method that brings all kinds of vagaries into play, and often leads to chunky shots left in the sand. Better to stay with a square stance, Hovland told me, and learn to play different shots from that position by adjusting your swing speed and the loft of the club at address.

Viktor Hovland gives a bunker lesson.
Unless you are a pro or low handicapper, focus on squaring your stance and being consistent, Hovland says.

4. Bad Lies Require Good Planning

On PGA Tour courses, the sand is so consistent and carefully tended that the pros rarely find themselves in truly awful lies. The rest of us are not so lucky. On the public tracks we play, we find ourselves in footprints or unevenly raked lies, with pesky mounds of sand piled up behind our ball. That’s the bad news. The good news is, in most cases, a less-than-ideal lie doesn’t require any radical changes. Just take a bit more sand and swing a little harder, as you’re going to need more speed to get the shot out of the bunker. Remember, too, that the shot is likely going to come out lower with less spin, so adjust accordingly, knowing that the ball will run out when it lands.

Josh Sens hits from the bunker.
If you find sand mounded behind your ball, swing a little harder to drive it out.

5. Fried Egg? Closed Face

A buried lie is a bummer. But it doesn’t have to be a scorecard-wrecker. Take your usual square stance, Hovland told me, but instead of laying the club face open, square it up or turn it slightly closed, then swing a little steeper, digging the blade into the sand behind the ball with practically no follow through, letting the natural loft of the club do the lifting. Account for the fact that the ball will come out low with minimal spin, but don’t berate yourself if you don’t stick it close. Heroism is not required here. For most of us playing from a fried-egg lie, anything on the green counts as a success.

Josh Sens hits from the bunker.
Buried ball? Let the club do the work.

Need more help with your sand game? Get a wedge fitting from the experts at our affiliate company, True Spec Golf.

Josh Sens Contributor

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.