My short game is, in many ways, a microcosm of the rest of my game. Occasionally inspired, sometimes awful. In truth, I can’t really complain about this because I don’t spend a great deal of time practising around the green at the moment. Actually, that is quite true: I don’t spend any time practising! Hitting the occasional duff or leaving straightforward chip shots in potential three putt distance is probably the price to pay for my lack of time on the short game area. However, getting out of a bunker has never really been an issue for me, despite this. In many ways, I think the bunker can be one of the best places to be around the green, but only if you have a clear idea of what you are doing.
- A Putter can be a great bunker club
- don’t be afraid to chip
- There are no points for style in a bunker
- Practice is still important
How Much Bunker Practice Time Do You Have?
If you are an accomplished golfer or one who has a fair bit of time to spend practising, this might not be the article for you. A quick trip onto YouTube will give you hundreds of instruction videos from professionals which will give you 2 different methods, swing thoughts and tips to get your bunker play working, at least in theory! For the rest of us, bunkers can be a scary experience. Many golfers aren’t thinking about knocking it close. In fact, they are probably worried about spending the next five minutes spraying sand in all directions as they hit 2,3 or more shots.
If you are the guy or girl who will do anything to avoid finding themselves in the sand, it might be time to change your outlook on things. The first thing to do is to actually change the club you are using.
There is a bit of snobbery involved in bunker play. Anything that isn’t a full swing splash shot is seen as almost cheating. It is the same attitude that is used towards anyone using a chipper. Or how the use of a hybrid instead of a long iron was seen 20 years ago (funny how that one has changed though, isn’t it?) Let’s take a step back for a moment. There are no bonus points for hitting a shot in any particular way. If you watch any links golf on television, you will see some of the best golfers in the world using putter from all over the place. This is intelligent golf.
Think About Taking a Putter
The same thing applies in bunkers. Often, the best shot to play is to putt the ball. In reality, a poor putter putting out of a bunker will probably fare at least as well as a solid bunker player using their sand iron. Putting is simply a far easier shot with a much higher success rate.
This is hardly surprising. Playing a typical explosive bunker shot needs a few things to go right. You need to be hitting at just the right point behind the ball to avoid thinning it over the green or leaving it in the trap. You need to be able to put a full swing on the ball while only wanting to hit it 5-10 yards, something that can be tough to do and lead to decelerating into the ball and once again leaving it at your feet. You also have to be comfortable opening up the club and so have the stance aiming in a different direction to the line you want to hit.
All this can be learnt but it does take time. If you are happy to get to the course and play a few holes now and again, you might not have the tie to get some bunker lessons and put it into practice.
Taking a putter is a whole other story. It is a short swing and easy for anyone to hit close to the centre of the club. Thinning or fatting a putter can certainly happen, but it is less likely and the consequences are less severe. Dosing the putt is also easier because there is always going to be a wide margin. For example, if you are putting out of a bunker and the ball needs to go 5 yards to be on the green and twenty-five yards before it rolls over the back, that is a big space to aim in. Even a non-golfer would be able to make the ball stop somewhere between five and twenty-five yards.
Be Careful of Bunker Lips
Of course, there is a little bit more to it than this. The first five yards are going to be through sand and probably a bit of rough. All this means is that you are going to hit the ball harder than you think you should. Compared with getting good at bunker play, learning to over hit a bunker putt is child’s play.
Unfortunately, the bunker putt does have some limitations. Firstly, it is never the best option if the bunker has a lip. All you will do here is roll the ball into the lip and watch it come back to your feet. Depending on just how panicked you are by bunkers, you might still have a putting option though. It will involve hitting it out either backwards or sideways. This isn’t a great option in terms of score, but it will be better than taking 3 shots with a sandwedge.
The other problem is when you have you get over or through a bunker complex. It is all well and good putting out of the first bunker but not if it means rolling into the next one. This is where you might need to add another shot to your repertoire.
You can actually do very well in the sand by playing a standard chip shot. Unless you are plugged, bunker lies are actually usually much better than finding the ball in the rough next to the bunker. This is why most professional golfers would far rather find themselves in the sand than in the rough. From the sand, they can control the ball and especially the sin in order to get close to the flag. From the rough, sometimes anything can happen and they might find their ball rolling five yards past where they hoped.
Of course, this isn’t our average hacker. The day when we are concerned about controlling spin from the side of the green is when we have truly progressed into the realm of the serious golfer!
Chipping from a Bunker
Back to the bunker chip shot. Sometimes, something like a little lip can make the putt escape impossible. However, that traditional high bunker shot isn’t necessary. A chip can be a good intermediate option. Using a pitching wedge, or even an 8/9 iron, will get the ball over the lip and rolling onto the green.
This shouldn’t be played like a normal sand shot by aiming behind the ball. Think of this as a standard chip shot, hitting the ball first with a short swing. Once again, like the putt, this will give you quite a bit of wiggle room in terms of how accurate you need to be. As long as it gets over the edge, you are good.
Bunker play isn’t always about the splash shot. In all honesty, I enjoy this shot and don’t play it too badly, but if a putt or a chip is the better option, that is what I will do. In my opinion, most golfers should broaden their thinking to include these tow choices too and they would see better scores and less frustration on the course.