The bunker shot is the one shot that separates good players from mediocre players. Most amateurs are terrified of hitting their balls from the sand and subsequently are poor bunker players for one reason: they don’t know the proper technique.
To execute the shot successfully, you need to understand the dynamics of the sand wedge. The sand wedge is the only golf club where the trailing edge is higher than the leading edge. This design allows the club to slide into the sand rather than dig straight down into it.
The most common bunker technique is to open your stance, play the ball forward and lay the face of the wedge wide open. That works for many good players, but I believe there is an easier, more consistent way to get out of the sand. I learned this technique from Stan Utley in Phoenix a couple of years ago.
First, set up square to the target line with the face square or slightly open. Spread your feet very wide (wider than with your driver) but tilt your spine slightly toward the target. The spine tilt left prevents you from dropping your right shoulder through impact and making the club dig into the sand. This is the key to making this shot easy to execute.
A simple way to get the feel of the correct spine tilt is to set up with your feet shoulder width apart and bend your knees. Hold your club in your right hand. Now slide your left hand down the side of your left leg until you touch your left knee. That’s the correct tilt you need.
Your knees will bow slightly, almost like your sitting in a chair. Keep your ball position slightly forward of middle, under your left armpit, but set up farther away from the ball. This will force you to bend over more, and the grip will be closer to the ground than normal.
With the spine tilted slightly left (weight is on the left side as well), set up with your hands back behind the ball. I admit this is very different than what you’re used to, but what this does is increase the effective loft of the club dramatically, and fully exposes the bounce. You’re able to set up square to the target line and aim exactly where you want to hit it, without opening your stance and clubface and having to make that rough calculation for a lot of sidespin. In my opinion, that’s the hardest part of using the traditional bunker shot method.
The swing is a very narrow swing, which means the elbows stay soft and the hands remain close to the body. You’re essentially picking up the club head with your wrists and hands, while keeping your hands close to your waist. This shot is way more wrists and hands than arms. The goal is to add speed on the club head end without adding speed on the grip end. It should feel like snapping a towel. On the backswing, the left wrist cups (bends in toward the body), as opposed to bowing back away from the body.
Your right elbow slides back along your side as you turn your hips. You need to keep your weight on the left side. From there, you simply throw the clubhead and slap the sand. You want your clubhead to pass your hands before you hit the ball. After impact, the club doesn’t rotate at all. The right palm is still facing up towards the sky. Finish with your chest facing the target,
Hitting down on it with speed is what makes the ball go up in the air. To hit a high shot with a lot of spin, simply hit closer to the ball with more acceleration. If you have a longer bunker shot, you simply add more arm swing, or hit a 52-degree wedge instead of a 56 or 58.
The one mistake I see players make over and over with bunker shots is this — they pull with the grip end instead of throwing the club head through the sand. That shot is not coming out of the bunker. You have to let the bounce of the sand wedge work its magic and I think this method is by far the easiest way to do just that.