Not All Sand is the Same
Just like courses have different types of grass, they also use different types of sand in their bunkers. Some sand is soft and fine like powdered sugar. Some sand is hard like concrete. If you want your bunker game to travel, you need to be able to read these different lies and modify your bunker play to match.
Reading the Sand
There are three factors you want to consider when evaluating sand.
1) Is the sand hard and grainy or soft and fine?
2) Is there a lot of sand under the ball or a little?
3) Is the sand wet or dry
While this seems like a lot to consider, you’ll learn all these things intuitively by paying attention to your feet. When you step into the bunker, notice whether your feet sink in (soft, fine sand) or not (hard, grainy). As you take your address position, dig your feet in to figure out how much sand is in the bunker. And if you can’t figure out if it’s wet or not, well, you’re on your own.
Adjust Your Mental Picture
Hard Sand vs. Soft Sand
The type of sand will have the biggest impact on how you play your bunker shot.
Soft, fluffy sand is easy to dig into. It will happily swallow up your club and absorb all the energy, leaving the ball right where it started. When you have soft sand, you need to use more of the club’s bounce to avoid getting your club stuck. You may also want to think about taking a shallow scoop of sand, not a deep scoop.
Hard sand, on the other hand, does not want to let you dig into it. In this situation, you need to use more of the leading edge and swing more vertically. You’re trying to break through a tougher surface, so you need a more direct attack.
Lots of Sand vs. Bare Lies
Treat a bare lie – when there’s little or no sand under the ball – just like hitting off the cart path. Your strike needs to be nearly perfect. Hit too far behind the ball, and you’ll hit a knee-high rocket across the green or into the face of the bunker.
Lots of sand, on the other hand, doesn’t really matter. As long as you understand the type of sand you’re dealing with, it doesn’t really matter whether the sand is an inch or a mile deep.
Wet Sand vs. Dry Sand
When sand gets wet, it gets harder, so make the same adjustments you would for harder sand. Use more of the leading edge and swing more vertically. When it’s dry, treat the sand normally.
The Nightmare Situation
Pros are great out of bunkers, but one situation troubles even the best: the buried lie or fried egg. While these are tough, applying the things you’ve just learned can help you make the best of a bad situation.
The ball being buried in the sand doesn’t change your objective: to get the club into the sand and under the ball. The fact that it’s buried just makes that more challenging. To get under the ball, you’re going to need to dig deeper. That means using more of the leading edge and swinging harder. Sometimes you’ll even need to close the club face to get maximum dig. The resulting shot is not going to be pretty, but if you focus on simply getting the ball out of the bunker, you should be ok.
You’re Getting Close
You’re now two thirds of the way to becoming a superior bunker player. In next week’s final lesson, I’ll discuss the finer points of your wedge, set up, and swing. Until then,