How to escape from bunkers that have thin, hard-packed sand: 

A reader in Tucson says he plays public courses where the greenside bunkers have just a thin layer of sand over hardpan. “Try to hit a traditional shot with a sand iron and you’ll skull it every time,” he said. “Why not write an article for those of us who have to put up with these conditions? What do you do?” 

I do what my friend Bob Murphy did when he won the Canadian Open in 1986. The bunkers at Glen Abbey were similar to the ones the reader describes—not much sand on top and very hard underneath. Bob used his pitching wedge out of every bunker, with consistent success. 

The tendency with a sand wedge is to bounce the flange of the club off the hardpan into the ball—and blade it. A pitching wedge will dig enough but won’t bounce off the hardpan—and you can still play a traditional shot. You won’t get as much loft with a pitching wedge, but it won’t bounce as much. 

I open the face when I use a pitching wedge from the sand. How much depends on how far I have to hit it. The shorter the shot, the more open the face; the longer the shot, the more square. 

I hit a little closer to the ball with more of a V-shaped swing. I make sure to hit behind the ball and down and through it. 

A pitching wedge also is a good option if the sand is wet.