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Bump and Run Bunker Basics

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 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?

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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.