Note how this golfer has opened the blade of his wedge to point well to the right of his target. This will allow him to enter the sand behind the ball and not dig into the sand. The ball will go in the path of his swing and not in the direction of his open blade.
Two simple faults I see in poor bunker players and beginning golfers are not opening the blade of their sand wedge up enough and not swinging through and accelerating through the shot. These are easy things to fix.
First, remember that in the sand, the ball does not go where the blade is pointed, but rather where the sand flies. Your swing path dictates that. The more you open your blade up (with the leading edge pointed well to the right of your intended target), the more bounce you effectively create with the sand. Thus, you can hit down into the sand well behind the ball and the club will not bury, but the “bounce” of the wedge will ride out underneath and through the ball. The softer the sand, the more you need to open up the blade. The nice thing is that you improve your margin of error for you are creating a cushion of sand that actually moves the ball out of the hazard.
While there are exceptions, most great sand players employ a weak grip (with the V’s of the thumbs pointed toward your chin rather than the right shoulder for right-handers). This will encourage your hands to keep that blade open through the ball.
When the sand is wet or compact, you will not want to open the blade quite as much and you will hit a bit closer to the ball.
Secondly, I see many players hit at rather than through the ball, especially in a bunker. When you realize that you don’t actually strike the ball, but rather the sand underneath it, you may begin to appreciate why good sand play requires a full swing through the ball. Currently Luke Donald has distinguished himself as one of the world’s premier bunker players. Watch him and note how he accelerates an easy, but full swing through his bunker shots. His hands will often finish at least shoulder high unless he has a very short shot. You will want to achieve that high finish most of the time as well.
Your follow through will in large part determine the distance your bunker shots will travel, but with an open blade, you can swing hard and full, and the ball will pop out high and not typically not travel very far. For an exercise, go into a sand bunker and experiment with how much you can open up your blade to the right of your target. Then put your big forceful swing on it hitting 2-4 inches behind and underneath the ball. The ball won’t go nearly as far as you may have feared, but it will get you out of most any bunker and with some spin. Have fun with it!