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Golf Bunker Shots: Techniques to Success

Hope you brought your sunscreen! It’s going to be a long day at the beach. You might’ve heard this before. It’s a classic dad joke a golfer might say to another golfer after they’ve hit a shot into a greenside bunker (or as some call it, a sand trap).  It gets more irritating to hear when it happens multiple times. But, that’s not the worst of it. Hitting out of a bunker may be a tall task and add multiple strokes to your score on any given hole.  The idea of hitting a ball out of the sand with precision can seem challenging especially if you’ve had trouble with bunker shots in the past. But, with the right techniques, you can master this aspect of the game. Let’s break down the fundamentals of successful bunker shots with these tips. 

sand wedge and golf ball in a bunker

Four Tips for Hitting Out of the Bunker

Bunker shots require a different approach compared to regular fairway shots. The sand beneath the ball can drastically affect the trajectory and spin. Therefore, it's crucial to follow specific steps to ensure a successful outcome. Most of the work for a bunker shot is done before you even swing the club. Here's a breakdown of key techniques to follow:

1. Set up in a wide stance

To start, set up in a wide stance for better balance. Dig your feet into the sand for a solid base. Lower your legs slightly to the ground, which flattens the club's shaft (typically a sand wedge or wedge club) and keeps your wrists active. This adjustment helps you swing the clubhead smoothly under the ball, an essential aspect of a successful bunker shot. Play the ball slightly forward in your stance and aim slightly to the left of your target. As you begin to hit these, you may notice that you get some spin on your shot when executed properly.

golfer wide stance in sand trap

2. Shift Weight to Your Lead Leg

To maintain stability and consistency, shift a significant portion of your weight onto your lead leg. This helps prevent excessive side-to-side movement during the swing, which can lead to poor contact with the sand and the ball.

woman golfer in sand trap

3. Loosen Your Grip in Your Lead Hand

For right-handed golfers, this means rotating your left hand to the left. This open grip position helps maintain the clubface's openness through the forward swing, enabling the ball to fly higher and land softly on the green. Once you’re on that green, it will come down to completing the hole with your putting (use these tips for that!).

A pro tip that will come with experience is to assess the condition of the sand. Is it packed and wet, or drier and finer? Your strategy will vary based on the sand's texture and density. For packed sand, use a more shut clubface; for fine sand, open up the clubface.

golf instructor teaching golfer how to hit out of bunker

4. Focus on Hitting the Sand First

During the swing, your primary objective is to strike the sand before the golf ball. This ensures that the clubhead sweeps under the ball, lifting it smoothly out of the bunker. Create a steep angle of attack by hinging your wrists. Aim to strike a spot an inch or two behind the ball in the sand. This motion will help the ball explode out of the bunker with the sand, settling safely on the green. 

Practice this motion to develop a consistent feel for the shot. If you have access to a bunker, you can try an exercise where you practice keeping your clubface open and scoop some sand on top of the clubface.  Try to work on your backswing by keeping the sand on your club and be able to fling that sand over your front shoulder at the peak of your backswing.  This will ensure that the clubface stays open on the follow through. 

Once you've set up your adjustments, execute your swing while maintaining the focus on hitting the sand before the ball. Ideally, you are sweeping and using the bottom of your sand wedge to really get into that sand and underneath that ball to lift it up for a nice shot onto the green. The sensation of extending your arms down into the sand will help you achieve the desired impact and follow-through. And don’t forget to practice good etiquette by raking the bunker from the aftermath of your time in there so the next golfer has a “clean” bunker to shoot from.

male golfer hitting out of the sand trap near the putting green

Practice and Patience

Mastering bunker shots takes practice and patience. Understanding these techniques and incorporating them into your game will gradually improve your confidence and success in getting out of bunkers. Remember, bunker shots are unique and require specific adjustments, so dedicate time to practice and refine your skills. With consistent effort, you'll be well on your way to becoming a more confident and skilled bunker player. But, also, don’t forget your sunscreen during those bright & sunny days!