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3 Factors That Will Lead to Success in a Fairway Bunker

By Keith Stewart, PGA
Published on

Abraham Ancer hits from the fairway bunker on the 18th hole during round three of the Shriners Hospitals For Children Open at TPC Summerlin on October 10, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

One of the more challenging shots to feel confident over is a fairway bunker shot. We face one of these shots per round and a good solid strike is difficult when your footing is unstable. This weekend the PGA Tour visits TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas. Putting aside the Par 3 holes, every hole but one has a fairway bunker. 
How do the best players in the world refine their talents from the beach? There’s a couple of PGA Coaching principles I can share that will certainly help. After all, aside from the presence of a bunker lip, with these fundamentals firing from a fairway bunker shouldn’t be that demanding.
A fairway bunker shot is any play you’re going to make from the sand where you’ll take a full swing and hope to strike the ball. Greenside bunker shots rely on striking more sand than ball and not what we’re referring to in this article. The player can use a hybrid, 6-iron or pitching wedge. If the goal is to hit the ball like a strike from the grass, these are the three ingredients you will need for the recipe of success.
There are three factors to to consider when approaching your ball in a fairway bunker.
  • How’s the lie of the ball?
  • How high is the bunker lip in line with my target?
  • How’s my stance?
Your read of the situation will dictate 80% of your success. Make sure you choose a club that will easily get the ball out. Don’t challenge the lip, take enough loft to get the ball over with no issues. Fairway bunker shots tend to come out low off the clubface. Next consider the lie. Can you get a club on the back of the ball? How’s your stance, can you set your feet and maintain your balance?
These three factors will help determine your target. The hole may be 150 yards away and that requires a 5-iron. Well, the lip and lie won’t allow for a 5-iron. Choose a new safe target depending on the club you can use. Don’t compound the problem by leaving the ball in the bunker, your first priority is to get the ball in a better place.
Once you choose the best club for your shot, take your stance by sinking your feet down into the sand. This will give you a little extra stability once you start swinging. If you just stand on top of the sand, your feet will be prone to sliding. This will cause you to miss the ball and strike more sand. Get set prior to hitting the shot and your balance will be much better.
After you take your stance, grip down on the handle of the club about the same amount you sunk your feet down into the sand. Making this adjustment will ensure you hit more ball at impact and less sand.
Build a successful strategy by analyzing the situation. Once you complete that calculation and choose the best club for the job, set those feet, and shorten that club. From there take your normal swing and your results will improve. Don’t believe me? Watch the PGA Tour this weekend and compare notes. They don’t miss and it’s mainly because they follow a similar strategy.

Keith Stewart is a 5-time award-winning PGA Professional with 25 years of experience in the golf industry. His network of players, coaches and insiders provide him with a unique perspective on the game. He's a writer on PGA.com and host of the ProShow on ESPN 920 AM Friday afternoons at 3:00pm EDT. Check out his PGA Coaching articles archived here or his conversations on air with this link to his website The ProShow.

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