TV commentators are fond of saying that PGA Tour pros would rather play from sand bunkers than the rough. Most amateurs don’t agree, and hard-packed sand doesn’t inspire more confidence. Actually, hard sand can be little bit of blessing if your ball finds a fairway bunker and a little bit of curse if your ball lands in a greenside bunker. You can recover from either situation if you know the proper techniques for each shot.
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In fairway bunkers, soft sand leads to poor lies and tricky conditions for maintaining balance in a full swing. In a firm sand, your ball is much more likely to sit up cleanly so you can hit the ball before the sand. Because your feet won’t slip as much, you can make a more confident full swing, giving you a better chance at a successful approach. To hit the ball cleanly, set up with the ball a bit back in stance -- off the inside of you right foot if you're right-handed -- and your hands pressed forward. To keep your lower body still in the swing, favor your weight on your front leg. Work your feet a little into the sand and make a smooth balanced swing that is focused on picking the ball cleanly out of the sand.
Many players worry about blading the ball over the green when hitting out of wet sand, but two-time British Open champion Greg Norman, who was known for his aggressive play, isn’t one of them. He favors a standard explosion shot. Norman recommends opening your stance and your clubface slightly and making a smooth swing. He aims to hit the sand about an inch and a half behind the ball and lets the clubhead slide underneath the ball. The hard sand will transfer the energy easily to the ball and it will fly out from the bunker easily, Norman says.
Digging Into Sand
To escape hard-packed, greenside sand bunkers, instructor Hank Haney suggests a few changes to ensure your clubhead digs into the sand without bouncing off the surface and hitting the ball. Start by setting your hands forward and closing the clubface of your sand wedge instead of opening it as your normally would. Make a steep backswing by setting your wrists quickly. You should feel almost like your picking the club straight up with your right arm. Chop down hard into the sand about an inch behind the ball. Don’t stick the club in the sand. Your follow-through will be shorter than normal, but you should still get the club through the sand.
From hard sand, Tom Watson, a short-game master in his days on the PGA Tour, sometimes uses a pitching wedge or 9-iron rather than a sand or lob wedge. The pitching wedge and 9-iron have less bounce on the soles and the leading edge of the clubhead and cut into the sand more easily, reducing the chance of a bladed shot. Many players are tempted to chip out of hard or wet sand. Norman recommends against this approach. He believes the margin of error on this shot is too small to make the attempt worth the risk.