How to Escape from the Bunker (in One Shot)

EWGA Forecaddie How to Escape the bunkerTo sharpen your short game, you need to have good skills in chipping, pitching and bunker shots.  Most Professionals prefer bunker shots because they practice a variety of shots from them which is the exact reason most amateur golfers fear bunkers, since there are different sand conditions as well as different places the ball can be in a bunker (plugged lie, up against a lip, downhill lie, etc.)  Also remember, while it may feel like a trap, it’s actually called a bunker, not a trap.

To escape from the bunker in one shot, use a sand wedge or lofted club with some bounce.  (Bounce is an angle measurement in degrees, of how much the sole of the club head lifts the leading edge.)  Bounce is what helps the club glide through the sand to help get the ball up and out of the bunker.  Start by opening your stance so you are lined up just left of your intended target and have your weight on your forward foot.  (Just like when hitting a pitch shot, this helps you avoid the tendency to want to “lift” the ball out of the bunker. 

Open the clubface and swing out to in through the sand, hitting about an inch or two behind the ball.  Be sure to accelerate through the swing and follow-through to the target.  Many times golfers stop swinging at the ball as soon as they hit the sand.  The key to getting the ball out on the first attempt is to swing to the target.  By hitting behind the ball, the sand forces the ball out of the bunker – the clubhead never really hits the ball.

A good practice drill from LPGA Hall of Fame golfer Nancy Lopez is to practice in the bunker with marshmallows.  Since the marshmallows are lighter than a golf ball, the only way to get the marshmallow out of the bunker on to the green is to accelerate through the shot.  It’s a great way to practice acceleration…plus at the Nancy Lopez golf schools, if you don’t hit the marshmallow out, you have to eat it – and no one wants to eat a marshmallow with sand on it!     

Here are some bunker play secrets:                               

  • Goal is to splash sand on the green
  • Ball position forward of center – off front heel
  • Weight 60/40
  • Hit an inch behind the ball
  • Accelerate through the swing – don’t stop at impact
  • Club selection – use loft and bounce
  • Full finish
  • Face position depends on lie
    • Open for a good lie
    • Square for an iffy lie
    • Closed for a bad lie
  • Face first;  grip second
  • Keep body turning to a full finish to keep the club from digging too deep in the sand

Remember, practicing your short game 50 percent of the time will help you gain confidence and lower scores at the same time.