Leaving a ball in the sand for many amateurs might as well be leaving a ball on the moon.
Weekend hackers rarely practice at all. When they do, they spend more time hitting driver than hitting out of the sand. That’s even if there’s a facility available that has a practice bunker. Excavating a ball from the sand is such a foreign concept, there’s no way the average player could do it during a round.
All these problems compound when it comes to the fairway bunker. That’s why Ravenwood Golf Club head professional Bob Gilbert emphasizes one main point when it comes to teaching students how to escape a trap from the fairway.
“It’s just a regular golf swing,” Gilbert says. “It’s no different than any other golf swing.”
To be fair, a fairway bunker shot is a little bit different. Gilbert advises his players to choke down a bit on the club and take a half a club to a full club longer than normal if the same shot was from the fairway. There’s no need to dig the feet in like one might for a greenside bunker shot, but at least dig in enough to make sure the base is stable and won’t slip in the sand.
After that, Gilbert says to just take a normal swing. And lower your expectations a touch.
“If you get on to the green, that’s great,” he says. “But the main purpose is to get the ball out of the bunker and somewhere near the green.”
Gilbert says the problem he sees most is players trying to help the ball in the air out of the sand. They might flip their hands through impact or dip the back shoulder to get the club under the ball. Like with most shots, the goal is to let the club to do the work.
“Keep your shoulders even throughout the swing just like you would in the fairway,” Gilbert says. “And don’t stop rotating. Don’t get to (the bottom of the swing) and just stop. Always rotate through.”
The PGA Championship proved how important knowing your shot trajectory is when it comes to escaping a fairway bunker. Viktor Hovland and Corey Conners both cost themselves strokes by playing a shot that caught the lip by inches.
Even if the stakes and the bunker lips are usually much smaller for amateurs, the lesson is still the same. Gilbert says not to mess with it. If you’re not sure that 7-iron will clear the front edge of the sand, always opt for the 8-iron instead.
“Sacrifice that little bit of yardage to make sure you get it out. We’re not trying to be a hero,” Gilbert says.
The best way to get better at fairway bunkers shots is simply to practice in the sand more often. Even hitting greenside bunker shots will improve your skill in a fairway trap. Every sand shot you hit will make you better prepared for the next one.
“The more you practice it, the more confident you become in it,” Gilbert says. “You’re less likely to go, ‘Oh no! I’m in a bunker and I can’t get out of it’.”
The best tip for those fairway sand shots is finding a way to calm the mind and prevent the panic that often sets in for amateurs that don’t have a ton of bunker experience. Gilbert has a swing thought that can work.
“It’s the same thing as the fairway. Just a different color.”