I‘m hitting my sand shots closer now than in years past. Before the break, I was leaving them inside seven feet on average—and I was converting more, too. I think the improvement comes from the way I work on these shots, and my approach to club selection and technique.
I’ve found it super useful to randomize practice. One ball, one shot—then move on to another situation. It really makes you focus and simulates what you face on the course.
As far as club selection, I know most amateurs use only one club in the sand. But depending on my lie and how far I need to hit it, I’ll use anything from a lob wedge down to a pitching wedge. For shorter shots from fluffy lies, a wedge with a lot of bounce (at least 10 degrees) is the play. For packed sand or to carry longer distances, a wedge with less loft and bounce makes sense.
That way, you can make roughly the same swing every time, letting the club deal with the lie. It’s my philosophy about golf in general: Keep things as simple as possible.
When you set up for a greenside bunker shot, don’t forget that you need to stand with your feet a little wider than normal, some flex in your knees and your weight favoring your front foot. And when you swing, you have to stay in this setup. That keeps you in position to strike the sand about an inch or two behind the ball. The best part: You don’t have to be precise to get a good result.
As for technique, I tend to fan the club wide open in the backswing and keep the clubface pointing toward the sky through impact. You can see that in the photo at the top of this article. It should feel like you’re smacking the sand with the backside of the club behind the ball. That’s a good swing thought. The only time I won’t do that is if I want the ball to roll out. Then I’ll hit a chunk-and-run, letting the clubface close as it strikes the sand.
Two things I work on from time to time depending on how I’m playing: I’ll shallow my backswing to take less sand and spin it more. And my dad [Mike Thomas] reminds me sometimes to turn my chest forward in the through-swing. It’s another way to avoid fatting it. You don’t want to swing all arms, which is something I see a lot of amateurs do. A good swing thought: Finish with your chest facing the hole like you see me doing here.
Generally, your goal with bunker shots is to get the ball to check up quickly. Do that, and you can land the ball much closer to the hole, instead of guessing how much roll you would need to get the same result. That takes a lot of pressure off the putt. —WITH RON KASPRISKE