Master the 40 yard bunker shot

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Learn how to master the 40 yard bunker shot with this tip from TG Top 50 Coach Gareth Johnston

A favourite trick of course architects is to place bunkers 30 or 40 yards short of the green. It creates visual confusion by foreshortening the approach, and leaves one of golf’s smelliest shots for anyone unfortunate enough to be caught out. Here is some sage advice designed to help you stop a drama becoming a crisis... 

When to play safe: If the lip is high, the lie is poor or the pin is well- protected. For many golfers, just getting the ball the front edge of the green from here would be a result

When to go for it: That depends on the lie, the height of the lip and your skill level. This is one of golf's hardest shots, for all but the elite player anything that gets you putting is a satisfactory result.

Should I try to take the ball clean? 

No. Nipping the ball off the top is an attractive option but needs prohibitive precision: a fraction heavy and the ball goes a quarter of the distance; a fraction too clean and you can thin the ball into the lip. The more sensible option is to play it like any normal bunker shot, aiming to catch the sand an inch or two behind the ball.

But if I do that, I can't send the ball 40 yards 

Not with a sand wedge, no. That's why you should use a straighter-faced club, and let the lack of loft do the work in terms of distance. Of course you need to take the steepness of the lip into account here, but you can still play an effective long bunker shot with anything right down to a 7-iron.

But my sand-wedge has bounce, won't other irons just dig in to the sand?

In fact all your lofted irons have a reasonable degree of bounce – that is to say the trailing edge of the sole is slightly lower than the leading edge. It is designed to provide the same anti-dig protection on fairways that your sand wedge's sole does in bunkers. As such, your lofted irons are equipped to strike the sand without digging.

Do I need to change my technique for this type of shot? 

You can use your regular bunker technique. Keep feet, hips and shoulders square, and open the face a touch to accentuate loft and bounce. Keep the shaft vertical, hands level with clubhead. Then, as with any bunker shot, the key is commitment; use a crisp rhythm, strike the sand with purpose and be sure to follow through.

How ambitious should I be?

That depends on the lie, the height of the lip and of course your skill set. But remember this is one of golf's hardest shots, and for all but the elite player anything that gets you putting is a satisfactory result. That can even mean shooting away from the pin if the lip is high, the lie is poor or the pin is well protected.