Pro's Corner

How to Play Fairway Bunkers

By John Leach

There's no need to panic when you find yourself facing a fairway bunker shot. It's just a matter of playing the right shot. Unlike greenside bunkers where the idea is to hit the sand first, the fairway bunker requires you to hit the ball first. By properly planning your shot and adjusting your setup and swing, you can master the fairway bunker shot with just a little practice.

The first step in a successful fairway bunker shot is a thorough analysis of the situation. Two items are especially important--the lie of the ball and the height of the bunker's lip. These factors dictate the type of shot you will be able to play.

Be realistic when assessing your lie. If the ball is sitting too far down in the sand or is in a position that does not allow you to take an adequate stance or swing, you may opt to blast or pitch out into the fairway. A mistake in judgment could result in leaving the ball in the bunker and making the situation worse. Remember, the goal is to get the ball back into play with a single stroke.

If the lie is suitable and you elect to hit a full shot, check the lip of the bunker. The higher the lip, the more loft you will need. Ask yourself what is appropriate. If you have a long iron to the green and the bunker has a steep lip, you should fall back to a more lofted club and play to a target short of the green. As you consider the lip, keep in mind that the stance and swing adjustments you make will produce a shot that flies slightly lower than normal. If you have any doubts whether you have enough loft to clear the lip or not, go with an even more lofted club.

If the lip is not a major issue, however, you will probably need to adjust club selection in the other direc-tion. Since the proper technique for the fairway bunker shot involves less lower body movement and a slightly shortened swing, you should add a club to what you would normally hit. If you hit a 7-iron 150 yards off the grass, you will likely need a 6-iron to cover the same distance from a bunker. The harder you swing in a bunker, the greater the chance of mistakes. Choose a club that allows you to make as controlled a swing as possible.

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