How to Play from Greenside Bunkers in Golf

Greenside bunkers are often feared and deemed as one of the hardest shots for a rookie player. There are good reasons behind it. Statistics show that even the most experienced players can only get out of a greenside bunker 5 out of 10 times. Which puts the success rate of a bunker shot roughly around 50%.

That’s the beauty of the shot. And that’s exactly why you shouldn’t fear it. If you can get out of the sand 1 out of 10 times, that’s very good odds when compared to the best players.

One of the main reasons why new players fear the bunker shot is that it’s not a commonly discussed topic. Materials on how to address these shots are very limited. That’s where we come in.

In this post, we’re going to cover everything a player needs to know about greenside bunkers. So, buckle up and get your gear because it’s going to be a sandy ride.

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What Are Greenside Bunkers?

Greenside bunkers, or bunkers in general are manmade hazards on a golf course. It looks like a pit of sand amidst all the greenery around a golf course. The bunker is usually a few feet below ground level. So, it takes a little bit of effort for players to get out of there.

Greenside bunkers can vary drastically from course to course in terms of their size and characteristics. Some bunkers are easy to tame while the others, not so much. The reason we’re calling it a greenside bunker is because these pits of sand are usually located right outside the green.

The key to success out of bunkers is knowing where you are and what you need to do. That’s what we’re about to teach you in this post.

Steps to Approach A Bunker Shot

Your success depends on how you approach the shot. There are certain elements that you need to cover before you can go in the sand and swing your wedges at full speed. So, take your time and read this section carefully.

The Address Position

The first thing you’re going to address is your address position, no pun intended. How good and appropriate your address position is will determine the success rate. If you’ve been playing for a while, you would know that your knees bend to a point where you can grip the club comfortably while maintaining the correct hand position.

However, when you’re are in the greenside bunker, you need to add some extra bend to your knees. The reason you need to do this is to get more stability. In greenside bunkers, your lower body has no function. You can’t hit a bunker shot as you would play with a driver from the tee.

Bending your knees farther will bring you closer to the ground, giving you leverage on the upper body. From there, you need to swing with your arms and shoulders and hit down on the ball to get out of the pit.

Weight Distribution

If you’ve nailed the address position, it’s time to move on to weight distribution. As you’re standing on sand, stability is always going to be an issue. So, you need to adjust your weight distribution to compensate.

Thankfully, you don’t need to discard what you’ve learned so far. We know that an ideal address position puts more weight on the front foot. You need to do the same for greenside bunker shots. All you need to do is exaggerate it just a little bit.

A good rule of thumb is to start with 60% weight on your front foot. If you still don’t feel stable enough, push another 10%. You’ll know if you’re not doing it right because you’ll feel the struggle when you try to hit down on the ball. When your weight distribution is right, the shot will become a breeze.

Club Selection

What do you think you should use on a greenside bunker? Well, technically you can use any club you want from your bag. But the wise approach to these shots would be with wedges. These are highly lofted clubs, perfect for getting the ball into the air. Ideally, you should have at least 3 wedges in your bag at all times.

Now, which one you take from your collection will depend on the particular characteristics of the bunker. For example, if the sand is fluffy, you need to use a higher bounce. The extra bounce will help you glide through the sand.

On the contrary, if the sand is firm and gliding through is not an option, you may go with a wedge that has less bounce. A lob wedge will work great in this case.

Next up, the distance of the shot. If it’s merely 20 to 30 yards of the distance you need to cover, a pitching wedge will do the job amazingly. For longer bunker shots, you need less loft and a squared up club face.

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Club Face Angle

If you’re well-versed in the basic golf lessons, you might know that the club face should be square with the target most of the time. The reason we’re saying most of the time is that shorter greenside bunker shots are one of the exceptions.

When you first end up in a greenside bunker, you may feel reluctant to use an open club face. Because it gives the impression that the ball will fly to the right. In reality, the open club face helps keep the ball straight because the properties of grass and sand are not the same.

You can verify whether you should open your club face at impact or not by watching the PGA tour pros.

Hit Behind the Ball

The natural instinct for most people when they’re in a greenside bunker would be to avoid the sand at any cost. What’s the point of sprinkling sand all over yourself, right? Well, not really. You can’t just hit the ball from the bunker and expect it to fly out to the green.

Rather, you need to hit the sand right before the ball. You’ll actually dig into the sand and it’ll pop the ball in the air. In your initial days, you may take more sand than most players. It’s normal and happens to everyone from time to time. The more you practice and the more you get acquainted with the sand, you’ll know how to control the divot and get closer to the ball.

Accelerate All the Way Through

Most players who have a good success rate with greenside bunkers usually have a very nice tempo. Developing a good tempo may take years for some players. If you don’t have a good tempo yet, just keep in mind that you need to accelerate through the shot.

What we mean is, you need to keep increasing the speed of your swing for the entire duration of the shot. You can’t start very fast and slow it down right before you hit the ball. It’ll ruin the rhythm and you may very well miss the shot completely.

Players who have a good tempo usually maintain their acceleration very well. If you’re not one of them, just consciously keep an eye on your swing speed.

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Follow Through Matters Here Too

In lots of our previous posts, we’ve emphasized the importance of follow through. You need to finish the swing because it impacts both the distance and accuracy of the shot. The same is true for greenside bunker shots.

The swing might be slower and not a complete one, but you still need to finish high. We’ve seen PGA professionals like Jason Day finishing so high that it seems like a full swing! You may not need to go that far, but you should definitely finish higher than your regular pitch or chip shots.

Don’t Forget the Target

Sure, the goal of greenside bunker shots is to get out of the sand in any way possible. The key is to focus on where you want to go, not where you don’t want to go. So, if you want to land directly on the green from the bunker, that’s what you need to target. Not the edge of the bunker. Not another nearby hazard.

When you have a specific target for your shot, your body automatically helps you to adjust the shot. It’s very much like target fixation, a phenomenon motorcyclists commonly face. They end up hitting what they don’t want to hit if they get too fixated on a target.

Practice Whenever You Can

Practicing bunker shots is not as easy as practicing putting or tee shots. Because driving ranges usually don’t have bunkers. Your only option is to go to a real bunker on a course. For this practice, you should pick a day when you know there won’t be many players. Because you don’t want to disturb other players with your practice, do you?

Final Words

Bunkers shots are not one of the easy to master shots in golf. It takes effort and it takes time. The most important thing is that you need to tackle it head on. You need to practice and give yourself time to understand how coming out of the greenside bunkers work.

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Thanks for reading today’s article!

Nick Foy – Golf Instructor

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