For most golfers, playing a fairway bunker shot is the most difficult full swing shot in golf. Even from a perfect lie in the sand amateur golfers struggle with the execution of this shot. From my experience there’s two main reasons – your footing and balance – and then consistently having the bottom of the downswing in the proper place.
1 Footing and Balance – When you enter a fairway bunker the first thing you realize is that your footing is drastically different than playing off the fairway. A fairway bunker surface is not stable. The sand has a lot of give to it. So, you must secure your footing by digging in slightly. Keep in mind, the deeper you dig in the more sand you potentially are going to take at impact. Once you’ve secured your footing your thoughts turn to balance. To get the contact point correct in the bunker you need to stay as centered as you can over the ball throughout the swing. I like to see my student’s head stay very centered or even with the ball during the entire swing motion. This will help get the bottom of the swing in the proper place.
2 Impact – The goal in a fairway bunker shot is to contact the ball first and then take as little sand as possible. To accomplish the task, start by choking down on the club about one inch and play the ball slightly farther back in your stance. Then focus on the length of the swing. I like to follow a one-third backswing to a two-thirds follow through. Make a shorter back swing and then a fuller through with the emphasis on turning thru the shot with your body. This sensation will move the bottom of the downswing more forward to contact the ball first.
By focusing on footing, balance and impact you can become more successful with any style swing. Ideally, you’d like to get the ball on the green or close to but remember that you’re in a hazard and the goal is to get out in one shot. Follow the steps I’ve outlined and you certainly will raise your percentage of higher quality shots out of a fairway bunker.
Tim Cusick is the Director of Instruction at the Four Seasons Resort and Club/Dallas at Las Colinas. The Northern Texas PGA named Cusick Teacher of the Year in 2005, 2009 and 2015, as well as the 2014 Horton Smith Award winner for education. He’s the author of ‘The Four Keys to Improve your Swing.’ Follow him on Twitter @timcusickgolf and visit his website: timcusickgolf.com.