Bump and Run Bunker Basics

By David AllenNovember 7, 2009, 1:25 am
We know it's difficult to find time to practice during the week. When a Saturday or Sunday tee time rolls around, you're hoping to find some spark or productive swing thought that will help you break 100, 90, 80 or whatever your scoring goal may be.
With the weekend warrior in mind we created Bump and Run, a weekly Q&A with some of the game's top instructors. Each Friday, a teaching professional will occupy this space and answer questions directed at improving your game. This week it's Josh Zander, a teaching professional at Stanford University Golf Course and the Presidio Golf Club in Northern California.
Josh Zander head shotJOSH ZANDER
Teaching professional, Stanford University Golf Course, Palo Alto, Calif., and Presidio Golf Club, San Francisco


- Golf Digest's Top-20 Teachers
Under 40 (2007)
- Golf Digest's Top Teachers by State (2002-'09)
- 2003 Northern California PGA Section Teacher of the Year

 Web Site:

Stanford: 650-323-0944, Ext. 17; Presidio: 415-561-4661, Ext. 300

Zander, a former member of the Stanford University golf team, competed in the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links. He can frequently be found on the practice range at Stanford alongside one of the school's most famous pupils, Michelle Wie, or in the practice bunker trying to help one of his students escape the sand. Zander says amateurs would have a much easier time getting out of the bunker if they understood what the club, specifically the bounce, was designed to do.

'Every bunker shot is the not the same,' said Zander. 'Sometimes the sand is hard-packed, sometimes it's real fluffy or the ball is buried. You can't go about them all the same way.'

To submit a question to Zander or one of our teachers, please e-mail bumpandrun@thegolfchannel.com and check back every Friday to see if your question got answered. 

You made reference to the word bounce earlier. Just what exactly is bounce, and what is it designed to do?

Bounce is the angle between the clubhead's leading edge and trailing edge. If you hold the club up to eye level, so the shaft is straight up and down, you’ll be able to see how much lower the trailing edge is to the leading edge.

Understanding the bounce of the club is huge because if you know how the bounce works, and how it moves through the sand, then you can look at any lie and adjust accordingly. From a tight lie, you want to use less bounce so the club will dig; from a fluffy lie, you need more bounce because you want it to skid.

If you open the face more that will create even more bounce on the club than you currently have. A lot of clubs will have the degree of bounce written on them. For every degree you open the face you’re adding one more degree of bounce.

Every degree you lean the shaft forward, you’re decreasing the bounce by one degree. If the sand is really hard-packed – which is the case at many municipal courses – and you have a 60-degree club with seven degrees of bounce on it, what you want to do is lean the shaft forward at least seven degrees in order to get the bounce and leading edge on the same level. This way, the club will not skip across the hard-packed sand into the middle of the ball and skull it.

What is one of the biggest mistakes you see from amateurs out of the greenside bunker?

They get in the bunker and they open their stance 45 degrees, and then they open the clubface. Opening your stance causes an outside-to-in swing, creating a glancing blow. Opening the clubface increases the bounce, so if you’re in hard-packed sand you’re very likely to skull one, even if you make a good swing.

Zach Johnson blasts out of the greenside bunker.
Most PGA Tour players, like Zach Johnson, use a square stance from out of the bunker.
If you have a standard 56-degree sand wedge with 12 degrees of bounce on it, and you set up dead square with a square clubface, you’ll have 12 degrees of bounce. If you use the club the way it’s designed, it’s going to work pretty well for you. It’s when you start to get too fancy with it, opening the face way up and opening your stance, that you make it a lot more challenging than it has to be.

What causes the dreaded skulled shot?

Two things: No. 1, you have too much bounce on the club, which makes it skip off the sand into the middle of the ball; No. 2, the club is actually entering the sand too far behind the ball. If you take a divot out of the sand it’s usually six to eight inches long. After those six to eight inches the clubhead exits the sand, so if you hit a bunker shot that’s eight inches fat, the club is going to catch the ball on the way up. You’re actually skulling it by having hit too much sand before the ball.

Could you recommend a drill or tip to help amateurs overcome their fear of skulling the ball?

A great idea is to imagine a dollar bill under the ball. Let’s call it six inches long. Imagine the ball is in the middle of the dollar bill – you can draw the bill in the sand when practicing – and make the club enter two to three inches behind the ball, and exit two to three inches past it. If you can do this consistently, you’ll be in good shape.

One other thing people don’t understand is how much speed you need to hit good bunker shots. My formula is if you have a 10-yard bunker shot, you need to create enough speed to allow the ball to go 30 yards if you were hitting it from the grass. It’s about a 3 to 1 ratio. If I've got a 45-foot bunker shot, I look at it like, 'Okay, that’s 15 yards. How much do I want to fly the ball in the air? Okay, I want to fly it 10 of those yards. What’s my 30-yard swing from the grass?' I make a couple of practice swings through the air and that’s my swing. This formula is based on a decent lie in the sand. If you’re buried, you might have to swing a little harder; if the sand is firm, you don’t have to swing as hard.

Too often you see golfers leaving the club in the sand, out of fear of skulling the ball over the green. How does one stop this?

I always want my students to feel like their follow-through is longer than their backswing. It also goes back to how much you open the clubface. If you have 12 degrees of bounce on the club and you open the face another 15 degrees, that’s a ton of bounce. You could skull the ball or go right under it and hit it about a foot. If you squared up your stance, squared the face a bit, and swung in to in like a regular golf swing, you’d have a better chance of getting the ball out safely.

Let's get off the beach for one question. One of our readers writes in that he's starting to look up on his shots from time to time. He says it's causing him to lose 10 or more shots per round. How can he stop?

Related Content

Video: Getting the Ball Over the Lip
  • Video: Soft vs. Hardpan Bunker Lies
  • Video: Non-traditional Bunker Advice
Almost always when people say they’re looking up on a shot, it’s not so much that their head pops up, it’s that they’re changing their spine angle. If you look at any Tour player, their eyes are always following the ball; they don’t keep their head down past the shot. It may be down at impact, but then it releases with the shot.

If you keep your head down past impact, it locks your body up so you can’t turn and accelerate through the shot. Allow your head to release but maintain your spine angle

Here's a drill that will help you on your full-swing shots. Take your normal address position and place another ball down about two feet from the ball you’re hitting, or two feet outside of your target line. Make your normal swing, trying to get your left shoulder to point at the second ball on the backswing, and your right shoulder to point to it on the follow-through. You can do this without a club, too: Stick your arms out like an airplane, bend forward into your golf posture, and then point your left arm at the ball on your backswing, and your right arm at the ball in the follow-through. Stay in this imaginary two-foot zone and you'll maintain your spine angle and make solid contact.
Getty Images

Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.

Getty Images

Farmers inks 7-year extension through 2026

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:04 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance has signed a seven-year extension to serve as the title sponsor for the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, it was announced Tuesday. The deal will run through 2026.

“Farmers Insurance has been incredibly supportive of the tournament and the Century Club’s charitable initiatives since first committing to become the title sponsor in 2010,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

“We are extremely grateful for the strong support of Farmers and its active role as title sponsor, and we are excited by the commitment Farmers has made to continue sponsorship of the Farmers Insurance Open for an additional seven years.

In partnership with Farmers, the Century Club – the tournament’s host organization – has contributed more than $20 million to deserving organizations benefiting at-risk youth since 2010. 

Getty Images

Woods impresses DeChambeau, Day on Tuesday

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 11:27 pm

SAN DIEGO – Bryson DeChambeau played with Tiger Woods for the first time Tuesday morning, and the biggest surprise was that he wasn’t overcome by nerves.

“That’s what I was concerned about,” DeChambeau said. “Am I just gonna be slapping it around off the tee? But I was able to play pretty well.”

So was Woods.

DeChambeau said that Woods looked “fantastic” as he prepares to make his first PGA Tour start in a year.

“His game looks solid. His body doesn’t hurt. He’s just like, yeah, I’m playing golf again,” DeChambeau said. “And he’s having fun, too, which is a good thing.”

Woods arrived at Torrey Pines before 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, when the temperature hadn’t yet crept above 50 degrees. He warmed up and played the back nine of Torrey Pines’ South Course with DeChambeau and Jason Day.

“He looks impressive; it was good to see,” Day told PGATour.com afterward. “You take (Farmers) last year and the Dubai tournament out, and he hasn’t really played in two years. I think the biggest thing is to not get too far ahead, or think he’s going to come back and win straight away.

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

“The other time he came back, I don’t think he was ready and he probably came back too soon. This time he definitely looks ready. I think his swing is really nice, he’s hitting the driver a long way and he looks like he’s got some speed, which is great.”

Woods said that his caddie, Joe LaCava, spent four days with him in South Florida last week and that he’s ready to go.

“Before the Hero I was basically given the OK probably about three or four weeks prior to the tournament, and I thought I did pretty good in that prep time,” Woods told ESPN.com, referring to his tie for ninth in the 18-man event.

“Now I’ve had a little more time to get ready for this event. I’ve played a lot more golf, and overall I feel like I’ve made some nice changes. I feel good.”

Woods is first off Torrey Pines’ North Course in Wednesday’s pro-am, scheduled for 6:40 a.m. local time. 

Getty Images

With blinders on, Rahm within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.