Bunker Lesson 3 - On the Downslope

In the third instalment of this bunker series, PGA Advanced Fellow Professional Dr Noel Rousseau tackles downslopes with former European Tour player David Griffiths.

I am sure that you are familiar with this situation.

The ball landed in the middle of the bunker but somehow managed to roll to the back of the bunker and is now on a steep downslope. Often, this can be combined with a steep front lip of the bunker too.

What we now have is a very high tariff bunker shot.


Bunker Shot Planning

Like any shot played from a downslope, the loft on the sand wedge will be significantly reduced so the ball will come out much lower and with less spin.

This means that the club for this is your lob wedge. If you don’t carry a lob wedge then I would suggest getting one; if for nothing else, you will really appreciate it on a downslope around the green.

Much like the plugged lie method, we will need to allow for plenty of run-out, so aiming at the flag may not be your best option.


Downslope Set Up

Much like a regular chip from a downslope, we are trying to adjust our stance in a way that re-aligns our swing arc to better fit the slope.

  • Align your shoulders so that they are parallel with the sand
  • This will place your weight very much on the front foot; as much as 90%.
  • The golf ball moves further back in the stance so in this case, that places it in the centre of our feet.
  • Plenty of loft is required so I would have the clubface as open as possible so that the back of the club is flat as it hovers above the sand.
  • Keep the trail shoulder high so that you encourage a downward hit into the sand.

Downslope Swing Cues

  • Keep your body very still and your weight leaning towards the target. This makes the backswing very much an arms and wrist action.
  • In order to get the club hitting down steep enough we have to pick the club up steeper in the backswing so this will feel a lot more wristy than a normal bunker shot.
  • Keep your body (knees) low through the shot so as to have the club moving down, with the contour of the hill, past the ball and through the sand.


We will need to keep as much loft on the shot as possible so try and keep the lead wrist as cupped as you can as the golf club moves through the sand. This is evident in the follow-through action of David and I in the video. You can see how short it is and also slightly awkward as we wrestle with the handle trying to keep the face open all the way into early follow through.

Bunker shots always require plenty of speed but remember that the club will have less loft and consequently, the ball is going to travel further across the green. So how much speed you need is going to depend on how well you keep the loft on the clubface through the sand. The more loft the better and that means more speed.


Movement Psychology

I imagine that most golfers have enough physical skill to deal with this shot but it often goes wrong in the mind.

The big mental challenge with shots played from the back of a bunker on a downslope is that we feel that we need to get the ball up into the air.

This can lead us to entirely the wrong movement through the ball. We need to have the mental discipline to appreciate that the club must move down the contour of the hill and the only way to add loft is low hands and an open face. If you feel that this is too much to deal with at first, then you are far better off aiming for a long run-out, which might even be off the green, and accept a low ball flight.

As always, your intentions for the shot will have a huge influence on the swing that you make.


Troubleshooting

Why do I thin these bunker shots into the face?

It is likely that your swing arc is coming into the ball too shallow and hitting the sand early and then bouncing up into the ball. Keep your weight toward the target, pick the club up steeper and hit into the sand steeper.

Why is the ball going too far?

Either you are thinning the shot (see question above) or simply, you do not have enough loft through the ball. For high handicap golfers, this means just allowing for the run-out and hitting softer. For highly skilled golfers, work on keeping the lead wrist cupped through impact.

Should I play out of the bunker sideways?

If the downslope is steep and the bunker face tall, this will often be your best bet.