Welcome to Shaving Strokes, a new GOLF.com series in which we’re sharing improvements, learnings and takeaways from amateur golfers just like you — including some of the speed bumps and challenges they faced along the way.
There are plenty of tips to help players get out of greenside bunkers, but what about those traps that aren’t quite protecting the green, but aren’t technically fairway bunkers either? You know, the ones from about 50 yards out that can either make or break a hole for you.
If you’ve ever had a 50-yard bunker shot, you know how tricky these suckers can be, as they require so much strategy for a shot that, at first glance, shouldn’t be that difficult.
Golfers not only need to analyze the ball’s lie, but they also need to figure out which club to use, how to dial in their distance control, and how aggressive they want to be in order to save as many strokes as possible.
For average golfers, there’s usually a preconceived notion that using a wedge here is the best play. However, GOLF Top 100 Teacher Brian Mogg recently gave me a lesson that completely changed the way I looked at 50-yard bunker shots.
Swap your wedge for an 8-iron on 50-yard bunker shots
In the video above, both Mogg and I set up for a 50-yard bunker shot — with the former even going as far as describing it as “probably the hardest shot in golf.”
Not only is this type of shot difficult on its own, but as Mogg points out for this specific one, “we’ve also got a lip here… Nick, good luck.”
As Mogg watches, he asks me to walk through my approach.
“So I’m going to get kind of low, try to keep my weight forward, and I’m using a 60-degree wedge from here.”
As I take my swing, the result is less-than-stellar: The dreaded chunk shot, with the ball not even traveling halfway to the green.
Unfortunately, this is likely a familiar scene for many amateurs at my skill level (a 13-handicap).
This is where Mogg goes into full-fledged teacher mode, explaining to me why swapping a wedge for an 8-iron on this 50-yard bunker shot can produce a much better outcome.
“Let me show you how to hit this shot,” Mogg says.
“I’ve got an 8-iron, and what I’m going to do is open it as though it’s a sand wedge. The key is you’ve got to take sand, OK? You’re not trying to pick it.”
With the bunker’s lip mere feet from his ball, Mogg reminds me that opening up the clubface on the 8-iron is the only way to hit this shot properly.
“I need the loft of an 8-iron turned up,” he says. “I’ll take a big wide stance, and now I can’t baby it. I’ve got to make a big swing, keeping the face open.”
As Mogg takes his turn hitting this tricky 50-yard bunker shot, he sticks his attempt about 15 feet from the pin by using an 8-iron — and explains what made the shot so effective.
“I took a full swing and blasted an 8-iron with the face open,” he explains. “It came out a little high, with a soft cut.”
So when you can’t quite land on the right strategy when facing a 50-yard bunker shot, Mogg suggests using some “outside-the-box thinking” to stay aggressive, opting for an 8-iron versus your normal wedge.
“Make a big swing and just play a very long bunker shot,” he says. “Now you’ve got a new weapon in your short game that you can play if you find yourself in a very awkward position.”