How to Clear the Lip of Fairway Bunkers

All fairway bunker lies and positions are not created equal and you must factor in the height and distance from the lip of the bunker. In this video I have an uphill shot that’s 160 yards uphill.

What I would normally hit from this distance is a hybrid and from a position further back in the bunker I’ve got plenty of clearance and time to hit this shot and easily clear the lip. But if the ball is further up closer to the lip I might be dealing with an issue with the loft of the shot where I just can’t physically clear the lip with the club I would typically use from that distance.

So, in this situation I’ve got a great trick to show you to give you some idea of how to know what club is best from those really awkward lies where you’re close to the lip on a long fairway bunker shot.

As you know, different irons have different lofts so let’s check the loft on my 9-iron and see if I have enough clearance for the ball to get over the lip and out of this bunker. Step flat on the face of your club and the shaft will give you a visual cue of the shot trajectory.

It looks like there’s plenty of clearance so I’ll get a little greedy and try my 8-iron. Again just step on the face of the iron and fortunately I think I’m good to go with this club out of that lie with the ball is sitting nicely on a little bit of an upslope.

The key point with a fairway bunker shot is to treat it as though you’re really just on grass and your goal is to take a divot after the ball. Don’t try and pick the ball up cleanly as a lot of people do or help it out like you do with greenside bunkers because you will either hit behind it or blade it and probably hit that lip.

I make sure to hit down on the golf ball and that my feet feel stable because they often slip a little bit in the sand. I also do my best to keep a stable lower body as I make a good follow-through onto my left foot through the ball. If you are not so good at shifting your weight you can put the ball a little further back in your stance but remember that doing this will naturally lower the loft of the club face so you may need to reconsider your club selection.

With this shot my 8-iron cleared the bunker lip just fine and it bounced up just in front of the green. I may have been able to clear the lip with a 7-iron and get there but really I didn’t want to flirt with danger and cost myself another shot so 8 was probably the right choice.

Always think course management first so you don’t cost yourself extra strokes and always leave the bunker in decent shape for the next person by raking or smoothing the sand.

Erika Larkin is PGA Director of Instruction at The Club at Creighton Farms in Aldie, Virginia. She is the owner of Larkin Golf LLC and author of  A True Swing.  Erika was named Middle Atlantic PGA Teacher of the Year 2012, has been ranked the number 1 teacher in Virginia by her peers and Golf Digest since 2014.  She is also has been recognized as one of America’s Best Young Teachers by Golf Digest since 2012. She has been featured many times and magazine and appeared on The Golf Channel. Erika is a certified SwingAI Coach where she gives online lessons through the “Play with the Pros” App.

For more information, please visit and follow Erika on Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, and Twitter.

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