Keir McNicoll is a local lad who returned to the Links as Senior Assistant Pro from Gullane Golf Club earlier this year and certainly knows his way around Carnoustie’s bunkers.
The bunker shot can cause problems for the best of players; high faces, awkward lies, inconsistent sand. It can be a real minefield but setting up effectively for the shot gives you the best chance of getting out of the bunker successfully.
By adding loft to our wedge by opening the face at set-up we do two things essential in effective bunker play. The added loft gives us extra height – perfect for those high faces – and it also adds effective bounce to the club which allows the club to pass through the sand more efficiently instead of digging in too much. It will allow the club, if delivered into the sand correctly, to produce the ‘thump’ noise we are searching for.
How do we know if the face is open enough? Use the sand on the face drill to tell you….but only in practice – doing this drill on the course will obviously cost you penalty shots! If you open the face enough on your wedge you will be able to balance sand on the face of the club without it falling off. If the club isn’t open enough, the sand will simply slide off the face. The club may look bizarre in this position but don’t be alarmed, every great bunker player has this trait.
Posture – Squat down
Lower body stability is crucial in the sand and is another of the key differences between a ‘normal’ full swing set-up and a bunker shot set-up. In a full swing, we lower the club to the ground by hinging at the hips, in a bunker shot we want to bend at the knees and stand much wider. Driver width stance or wider is good (about shoulder width at least) and we want the feeling of squatting down, with weight distribution favouring the lead leg. This wide squat position also allows the hands to be lower address and therefore the shaft of the club to be much lower. You may want to back away from the ball slightly here too as this will give you room to swing the club. It will feel different but trust it!
This can vary from player to player but generally we want the ball to be just an inch or two ahead of our entry point into the sand. Each player will have tendencies so it’s up to you to experiment which ball position works best but to create the correct impact conditions it would be advisable to keep the ball somewhere between middle of the stance and left heal.
To create an effective strike producing height and spin we require maximum loft and speed at the right moment – impact.
The set up will encourage the club to swing in a certain way but the feeling of the club passing the hands through impact is one that will produce the best strikes and ultimately results. This creates more loft at impact as the shaft will ‘lean’ less toward the target and will be more vertical. Not what you want for a normal iron shot but for a finesse bunker shot, this is crucial. This is why many people struggle with bunker shots, as creating the correct impact conditions is very different to a ‘normal’ shot.
Follow these tips and you’ll be playing the ball from a bunker like a pro in no time!
Words by Keir McNicoll, PGA Senior Assistant Professional