For many of you, this is going to seem like a stupid waste of time because it's so basic. That's exactly why I want to cover it. One of the biggest reasons we get tripped up is because we take the basics for granted, and I think a whole lot of weekend golfers never understand this aspect of sand play. If you don't understand this, you are going to have a LOT of trouble with sand shots.
Today I'm going to teach you the basics of aiming a bunker shot.
Let's say you just hit a decent shot to the green but took a bad hop and landed in a greenside trap:
Yes, Court, I know: This ball will NOT fit in that hole. But it's just a diagram, ok? ;-D
And for you lefties... I've only done one drawing because this concept is so simple. You shouldn't have any trouble with this, despite the righthanded diagram.
Now, I've drawn a line labeled 'A' that runs through the ball and points directly to the hole. This is your aimline; this where you want the ball to go. Forget about it for the moment; we'll come back to it.
You've probably heard teachers say that you want to set up with your body "open" to the aimline. Line B is that "open setup" line. Your big question here may be how far open you want your stance to be; or to put it another way, what is the angle between A and B? The correct answer is: It doesn't matter. Open your stance as much or as little as feels comfortable; all that matters is that your stance is not parallel to the aimline.
The reason for this is that we want to use the bounce on the bottom of the club. The bottom of your sand wedge has a thick flange of metal that causes the club to skim through the sand, not dig into it the way the edge of the blade does. If we wanted the blade to dig, we would set up parallel to the A line -- also called a "square" setup; but to use the bounce, we set up open. When we set up open on the B line -- I'm showing your feet on the B line, but your shoulders are on it too -- the path of the club will also swing "across the line" on what I'm calling the C line. Have you got that? Once you set up along the B line, you'll swing along the C line.
Now let's look at the A line again. This is where so many people get messed up. The face of the club faces squarely toward the hole, straight down the A line. You don't twist your wrists to get the face pointed toward the hole; you turn the club's grip in your hands so the face aims at the hole although your entire body is aimed to the side. You have set up so that, if you were gripping the club normally, you would hit the ball on the C line; but you've turned the club so its face is aimed on the A line. Got it?
By the way, this is a general principle that you can use on any shot: Wherever your body is aimed, that's where the ball is going to start off. Wherever the face of your club is aimed, that's where the ball is going to land. Your body may be aimed to the left of where the clubface is aimed; if so, the ball will start to your left, then curve back toward where the face is aimed. If your body is aimed to the right, the ball will start to your right, then curve back toward where the face is aimed. This is how Jack Nicklaus played fades and draws, so it's a proven technique!
Now, when you make your swing, the clubhead will swing across the A line, hitting the sand behind the ball (just how far you want that to be depends on things like how fluffy the sand is, but 2 inches is a good average) and continuing along the C line. The cushion of sand between the clubface and the ball will cause the ball to pop out, and the ball will travel pretty much along the A line.
One last thing: You might wonder about how you determine the ball position, and I found it very hard to show it properly on the diagram because there was no way I could get all the proportions of everything right. The ball's too big, the wedge is too small, the stance is too close... it's just too tricky with the diagram. The best I could do is add the D line. Please note that this line shows your normal ball position on the C line, the club's actual path. Lines A, C, and D all intersect where you want to hit the sand -- in our example, 2 inches behind the ball. If you were to actually set up this way, it would look as if a properly-sized ball was sitting on both lines A and C, just slightly ahead of D where you would place the ball for a normal shot. (Remember, we're trying to hit behind the ball when we're in the sand. The club travels through the sand for 5 or 6 inches, so we actually take out an area about 4 inches wide and 6 inches long. On the diagram, that area looks like a tiny point where the three lines intersect.)
I hope that explains how to aim in a way you can understand. If I wasn't quite clear, just leave me a question in the comments and I'll try to answer it more clearly. This really is the biggest trick to hitting good sand shots; once you learn how to aim properly, it doesn't take any big changes to adjust for changes in the sand.