Most amateurs dread playing from wet, compact sand because they have no game plan for how to handle this type of firm lie—or any different sand condition, for that matter. They generally use the same technique for all bunker shots, regardless of the sand texture or how the ball sits. Here are the two most common sand conditions you’re likely to find in the greenside bunker—firm sand vs. fluffy sand–and how you should game plan for each to ensure the best results.
Ideally, you want the clubhead to enter the sand approximately 2 inches behind the ball, and carve out a divot 2 inches deep—regardless of how firm or soft the sand. This is the perfect amount of sand to propel the ball up and out of the bunker and onto the putting surface. In firm conditions, you’ll need the help of the club’s leading edge to dig the recommended 2 inches. Set the clubhead down square to your target line, which effectively lowers the leading edge so it will enter the sand before the sole’s trailing edge.
Set up with the shaft neutral to slightly forward, which lowers the leading edge on your sand wedge and encourages the club to become more of a digger. Your sternum should be in line with the ball and your weight slightly favoring your front side. Since the club is likely to start bottoming out in the middle of your stance, you’ll want to play the ball 2 inches forward of center.
Swing the club back and up on a very steep plane—similar to a ferris wheel—so that the left arm is virtually parallel to the target line. By creating a more vertical shaft plane, the leading edge will have an easier time touching down first and carving the correct depth of divot.
Impact should closely resemble address, with the shaft leaning slightly forward and your hands a little ahead of the clubhead, which lowers the leading edge. Your sternum should also be in line with the ball, not hanging back. This creates an environment in which the club can dig, which is necessary when you’re playing from hard, compact sand.
For fluffy lies, dial the clubface open so that the leading edge rises and the trailing edge lowers, exposing more of the club’s bounce—i.e., the angle between the sole’s leading edge and trailing edge. This will allow the clubhead to glide through the sand, limiting the depth of the divot to 2 inches and no more.
Angle the shaft back at address so that the clubhead is in line with your hands and your sternum is slightly forward of the ball. The goal is to create an environment in which the clubhead passes the hands through impact, shallowing out the clubhead’s angle of attack and divot.
Allow your hands and arms to swing deeper and more around your body, so that when viewed from behind, the left arm is on more of an angle to the target line. Once again, this helps to shallow out the clubhead’s angle of attack so it doesn’t dig too much.
At impact, have the feeling that the clubhead is passing your hands prematurely, matching your set-up position. More importantly: Your sternum should be in line with or slightly ahead of the ball, which counteracts the early release. If your upper body is back and you let your right hand release too soon, the clubhead is going to enter the sand more than 2 inches behind the ball.
John Stahlschmidt, PGA is a TOURAcademy Master Instructor, and teaches at both TOURAcademy TPC Sawgrass and PGA TOUR Golf Academy World Golf Village. To comment on this month’s column, email John at firstname.lastname@example.org.