There are two big things that separate pros from amateur golfers in greenside bunkers.
First, assuming it is not plugged in the sand, the pros would much rather find their ball in a greenside bunker than in rough. On the PGA Tour, the lies are much more consistent in the sand. Balls in the rough can be perched on top of grass or tumble to the bottom of the thick stuff – or come to rest anywhere between – and can be tricky to judge.
Second, pros have more experience and practice a lot in the sand, so it does not intimidate them. Most recreational golfers don’t practice much, and those that do rarely put in time in practice bunkers. In their minds they may know they should open the face of a sand wedge, make contact with the sand a few inches behind the ball and splash it out without actually contacting the ball, but actually doing it is something else entirely.
One wedge guru after another – from Roger Cleveland to Bob Vokey to Dave Pelz – has preached that your sand wedge’s bounce is your friend. The flange that extends down from the leading edge helps keep the club from digging and makes it easier to maintain speed through the sand, which poor bunker players often fail to do.
The rule of thumb is that if you live in a place that typically has light, fluffy sand (such as Florida), you want a higher-bounce wedge (12-16 degrees). Wedges with less bounce (6-8 degrees) are ideally suited for courses that have little sand in the bunkers or that are especially firm (such as Arizona). Wedges in the 10- to 12-degree bounce range are the most versatile and can be effective in a wide variety of conditions.
I’ve never had a wedge designer tell me he thinks the average player needs a 64-degree wedge. Most agree that 60 degrees is more than enough loft for most golfers, and in most cases 58 degrees is probably enough. Higher-handicap players may benefit from going no higher than 56 degrees, because wedges with higher lofts do not present a large hitting area to the ball and can be tough to hit solidly.
The list below includes the PGA Tour players who lead in proximity to the hole from greenside sand and the higher-lofted wedges (not including pitching wedges) they use:
1. Jason Day: 4 feet 10 inches average proximity to the hole from sand
TaylorMade Tour Preferred Milled Grind 52 and 60 degrees, with True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400 shafts
2. David Lingmerth: 5 feet 2 inches
Ping Glide 2.0 50, 54 and 60 degrees, with Ping Z-Z65 shafts
3. Phil Mickelson: 5 feet 6 inches
Callaway MD3 Milled 56 degrees, Mack Daddy PM Grind 60 and 64 degrees, with KBS Tour-V 125X shafts
4. Seung-Yul Noh: 5 feet 10 inches
Titleist Vokey Design SM6 Raw 52, 56 and 60 degrees, with Project X 6.5 shafts
5. Zac Blair: 6 feet 1 inch
Titleist Vokey Design SM5 Raw 52 degrees, SM4 Raw 58 degrees, with True Temper Dynamic Gold Onyx S400 shafts
6. Peter Malnati: 6 feet 2 inches
Titleist Vokey Design SM6 Raw 50 degrees, with Nippon Modus3 120 shaft; SM6 Raw 54 degrees (bent to 55) and 58 degrees (bent to 59), with True Temper Dynamic Gold S400 shafts
8. D.A. Points: 6 feet 9 inches
Ping Glide 2.0 52 and 58 degrees (bent to 57), with True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400 shafts
T9. Rafa Cabrera Bello: 6 feet 7 inches
Titleist Vokey Design SM6 54 and 60 degrees, with Project X 7.0 shafts
T9. Cameron Smith: 6 feet 7 inches
Titleist Vokey Design SM6 52, 56 and 60 degrees, with KBS Tour 130X shafts