Keys to Successful Sand Play in Golf

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The Fundamentals for Getting Out of Greenside Bunkers

Shell Houston Open - Round One
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Golf instructor and former PGA Tour member Marty Fleckman goes over the basics of playing short sand shots from greenside bunkers here and on the following pages.

Being successful out of the sand depends on three things:

  • correct setup
  • proper technique
  • consistent point of entry.

You should use a sand wedge when playing short sand shots around the green. A sand wedge may vary from 55 to 58 degrees of loft with 8 to 12 degrees of bounce. I personally prefer a 58-degree sand wedge with 8 degrees of bounce.

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Setup Position in Greenside Bunkers

basic sand shot setup position with Marty Fleckman
Marty Fleckman

For the correct bunker shot setup, I like to draw or visualize three lines in the sand.

Each line has a specific purpose:

  • The line going from the target to the ball and then extending beyond the ball is called the target line.
  • The line that is about 10 degrees open to the target line is the angle of our feet or toes.
  • Then I draw a line perpendicular to the target line originating at the ball. This represents ball position, which should be off the left heel for right handed golfers.
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Slightly Open Clubface

front view of basic sand shot setup position
Front view of a basic bunker shot setup position. Marty Fleckman

Once you have the correct setup with the same amount of weight on each foot, the face of the club should be slightly open. This puts loft on the ball and allows the back portion of the bottom of the club to bounce off the sand, as opposed to having the leading edge dig into the sand.

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A More Vertical Swing

bunker shot sequence with Marty Fleckman
Marty Fleckman

The start of the backswing should be straight back or slightly outside the target line. There is an immediate breaking of the hands as you start this motion, producing a more vertical swing that encourages the club to enter the sand about two inches behind the ball (this is the point of entry).

What you are actually trying to do is to take as little sand as possible without contacting the golf ball. Allow the sand to lift the ball from the bunker. (You can work on getting a consistent point of entry with the Point of Entry Drill described here.)

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Finishing the Swing

bunker shot sequence with Marty Fleckman
Marty Fleckman

As you make contact with the sand there should be a cupping of the left wrist.

Let me explain "cupping." Assume you are wearing a watch on your left wrist and the face, as usual, is pointing outward. When contacting the sand on the forward swing, you should try to take the back of your left hand and move it towards your watch face, thereby creating wrinkles at the top of your left wrist (from the hand bending back toward the wrist). This action is called "cupping of the wrist" and it is very necessary for producing quality sand shots. (But note that cupping occurs at contact and after, not on the downswing before contacting sand.) Since this motion prevents the clubface from closing, the ball is lifted in the air with backspin.

These are the three most important things regarding sand play around the greens. You don't have to be perfect to get out of a sand bunker, but you have to have enough of the basic principles to get started.