To splash or blast, that is today's question. There are two ways that I teach bunker shots, whether you are a pro or a beginner. The first is the splash. I learned this shot from watching Leadbetter's guys out on tour in the 90's. I noticed that they set up to bunker shots differently than I was taught. They took a very wide stance with the ball more centered than in the front of the stance. I had always been taught to have a narrow, open stance with the ball forward. When I copied what Leadbetter's students were doing, I found it was an easier way to hit certain bunker shots or in certain types of sand. Before I get into the two types of shots, here are three principles that are important to hitting any bunker shot.
1. Your sand wedge is built so that the lowest point on the club is the bottom of the bounce, not the leading edge. If you picture a duck gliding to a stop on a lake, the duck's toes will be pulled back and it will use the surface on the bottom of its foot to glide to a stop. If its toes lead, the duck would go face first and have a very rough landing. Your sand wedge should glide in the same manner.
2. You need to understand that when you hit bunker shots, you are throwing the ball out on a cushion of sand. In order to gather the proper amount of sand to get the ball out consistently, you need to set up with your center slightly behind the ball so your club bottoms out about an inch behind the ball. Think of your ball as the genie in this picture and the sand is your magic carpet.
Third, sand is heavy, so you can't swing slowly and expect to move it very far. Your swing needs to have some zip into the follow through or the sand and your ball will remain in the bunker. Here is what a good bunker shot will look like.
Pictured is Charl Schwartzel. The sand is under the ball and lifting it out as he swings through the shot.
Back to the original question of splash or blast? A splash shot is great to use if you don't generate a lot of club head speed, because you will be moving less sand. Even if you do generate a lot of speed, it will be good to use when the sand is firm or wet, when the ball needs to travel only a short distance to the hole or when their isn't too much of a lip. Blast shots are a bit easier to throw high in the air for most people and are good when the sand is soft, your lie isn't perfect or you need the ball to spin when it hits.
When you set up for your splash shot, widen your stance and keep your weight centered. You will not need to use a lot of leg or hip motion for this shot. Picture yourself skipping stones and think about how your dominant hand swings in a gentle U motion. Now put your hands on the club and make the same gentle U motion and splash the sand out of the bunker. Your upper body will make a turn back and away, but once again, keep your legs quiet. You won't take a lot of sand out of the bunker because your club is making a wide, shallow swing through the sand. When you are holding your finish, your center should be over your front heel to make sure you have enough momentum to get the sand and ball out of the bunker.
To hit a blast shot, you want to set up with a normal stance that is slightly open to your target line. The reason you want a slightly open stance is to swing along the same line, which will give you a steep approach and guarantee that you hit the sand. Most people I see for bunker lessons have overdone the open stance and are facing so far left of the target that they force themselves to swing away from their body. This produces a very shallow swing and is one reason many of us zing the ball across the green without touching the sand. Once again, you want your center or sternum a bit behind the ball to assure that your club enters the sand before it hits the ball. When you hit a blast shot, you are taking a steeper approach, so your club will make a thumping sound when it hits the sand and it will gather and move more sand. Instead of that thin magic carpet pictured above, your ball, like the characters here, will ride out of the bunker on a pillow of sand.
I hope this helps you understand that there is more than one way to hit bunker shots. Next time you get into the bunker, spend some time experimenting and figure out which is best for you. The better you get at both shots, the more options you will have when faced with a tough shot.