Play Smart: The Delicate Bunker Shot

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Learn how to play the delicate and short greenside bunker shot. . . 

The long bunker shot may be one of the hardest assignments in golf, but the short one is no picnic either. When you find yourself in a bunker that is quite close to the pin, the challenge you've been set feels easier. But it's easy to foul it up if you don't go about it the right way. The bottom line is, don't let the shortness of the shot trick you into trying something different. Retain your discipline and processes, play a proper golf shot and you should be just fine... But take the advice below into account, too.

The ball's lying clean enough and the pin's so close; can't I just nip it off the top?

No, you can't. In the regular chip shot the clubhead is moving much slower than for the standard, longer bunker technique. That means any contact at all with the sand behind the ball is enough to totally sap the energy in the strike. You need a super- precise contact to chip the ball successfully, and it's not worth the risk. Play a regular sand shot, however close the pin is.

Fair enough. But do I need to take more sand than usual to slow the club down?

No. The average club player finds bunkers tough enough without introducing extra variables like changing where your club needs to enter the sand. Also, if you start taking too much sand the contact between club, sand and ball is poorer and you won't create the spin that will help hold your ball by the pin. In practice work on a strike 1-2in behind the ball and try to get consistent with that.

So how do I take the heat out of the shot?

The simplest way is to open up the face. This increases the loft, helping you add height and reduce run. Just be sure to square up your aim as with a very lofted face, the swing path plays more of a role in controlling start line. You can also shorten your swing, though keep backswing and throughswing length the same to promote acceleration. For a third option, you can slow down your tempo.

Even so, if I catch this a bit clean I'll be in that ditch on the other side of the green! 

Yes, that's true... but going into the shot with that in your mind only makes it more likely. Your body will try to create the outcome your mind is picturing, so give yourself a positive focus rather than a negative one. Instead of that ditch or a steep lip, try placing your attention on the point on the green where you want the ball to land, or the club's entry point into the sand.

OK, but my landing spot is only a foot on the green! I'll need a worldy to get this close...

So don't try to get it close! When the pin is cut close to you, getting the ball within three or four feet is not always possible. At these times you have to reassess your expectations and accept that 7-10ft behind the hole is a decent outcome. The crucial thing is always to give yourself a decent margin for error on your landing spot – perhaps 5-10ft beyond the fringe depending on your ability.