How To Easily Improve Your Bunker Shots

Bunker shots no longer have to be difficult. Typically it’s tough for both inexperienced and seasonal golfers to play consistently good bunker shots, but it doesn’t have to be this way. These tips have been prepared to help you become more confident and improve your sand bunker play.

In fact if you’re new to the game you may have already fallen into the trap of thinking an explosion shot is the only way to play out of bunkers. If this is the case, you will hugely benefit from understanding how to adapt your bunker shots based on your lie and the type of sand you are in.

We have all seen coverage on TV where professional golfers have favoured being in a greenside bunker rather than in the semi rough beside it. They simply aren’t fearful of being in the bunker and know within themselves that they will have greater control playing from sand. In fact they relish the opportunity to get it close from the bunker, which may not necessarily be possible from deep rough. By practising the following techniques you will gain a similar confidence and be prepared for any situation you find yourself in.

Undoubtedly solid practice of these basics will enable you to develop a good rhythm and confidence of mind. Ultimately the mental strength you will gain from being an improved bunker player will also help with your approach shots, as you feel less intimidated playing over or between bunkers.

Bunker Shots In A Nutshell

The primary thought for playing out of sand is to think of the bunker shot as one where the club hits the sand creating an explosion of sand that carries the golf ball out of the bunker. When you first start playing this can seem kind of weird because you have to start by learning how to hit the sand first. One mental trick is to forget the ball exists and imagine instead that it’s a rather large grain of sand. Over time experience will teach you exactly how far behind the ball to hit the sand for different shots, but in the beginning a good rule of thumb is to hit 1.5 to 2 inches behind it.

Bunker Shots v. Chip Shots Comparison

If you’re already confident with your chipping but continue to have trouble in the sand, it’s worth making this comparison. Chipping and bunker play are the same in so much you need to break your wrists early and hold this position on the downswing. Importantly though when you play a chip shot the club face hits the ball, whereas with a bunker shot this isn’t a requirement and there’s more room for error in terms of how much sand you take. Thus technically a basic bunker isn’t harder to play than a chip shot. In reality though the real problems in bunkers come from not having sufficient confidence to strike the sand where you are aiming with adequate control and rhythm. Additionally golfers have problems because they never really take the time to understand the construction of the sand wedge and how it differs from other clubs. Therefore if this is you, please read on for an explanation and the specific tips for playing out of bunkers.

Understanding The Sand Wedge

It’s important to appreciate that the sand wedge is constructed differently from the other irons in your bag, due primarily to a feature called the bounce. The bounce is the term given to the sole of the club, otherwise know as the flange. The sand wedge’s club face can vary from 55 to 58 degrees of loft, with 56 degrees being the most common one. The bounce can vary on average from 10 to 14 degrees of loft. Critically you need a club that works for you. Having too much bounce will cause you to bounce the clubhead into the side of the ball. Equally not having enough bounce will cause you to thin the ball because you will end up digging into the sand too much, just as if you were playing with a pitching wedge.

How To Play The Splash Bunker Shot

There are two main ways you to play a bunker shot with your sand wedge. Firstly you can play with a square face where the leading edge digs into sand and secondly by opening the clubface to skim through the sand with the bounce. The latter and most popular is often called an explosion or splash shot.

Here are the 8 exact steps to playing a splash bunker shot

1. Open up the clubface so as it still pointing to the target and take your grip. Generally the deeper the bunker the more you will have to open the face. The clubface is fully open when it is totally flat and if you cared to you could easily balance a bottle on it.

2. Set up with an open stance by adjusting your body so as your shoulders point to the left of your target. Typically aim 10 feet to the left of the target, around 15 – 20 degrees. Opening the clubface will naturally result in the ball shooting to the right and therefore by aligning yourself more to the left you counter this.

3. Position yourself so as the ball is just inside the front heel.

4. Dig your feet into the sand and shuffle them until you are comfortable and balanced. Flexing your legs automatically lowers your centre of gravity and makes it far easier to swing through the sand. Furthermore this action also creates a solid base so as you won’t slip.

5. Break your wrists early in the same way you would play a chip shot and hold this position on the upswing.

6. Swing parallel with your feet (not the target line) on an out to in path. On the downswing accelerate into the sand, maintaining the wrist break.

7. Allow the bounce to skim into the sand as if you were taking a divot of sand. The clubhead should strike the sand approximately two inches behind the ball. By not releasing it through impact you will ensure the club face is open as it hits the sand.

8. Follow through smoothly and finish with your hands held high.

How To Play From Different Types of Sand

Understanding how to execute various types of bunker shots based on the firmness of the sand is crucial to playing well. The following examples describe when to open the face and when to keep it square and swing normally.

Testing the sand

Whilst you aren’t allowed to touch the sand with your club to test its consistency you can appreciate the depth and texture of it as you take your stance. Don’t get caught out by dismissing the effect rain will have on soft sand. In the rain the sand will compact and thus significantly effect how you play the shot. In the same way take note as the bunkers dry out throughout the course of your round.

Playing from soft sand

In soft fluffy sand it’s crucial the bounce glides through the sand. Striking the sand with the leading edge will lead to the clubhead digging into the sand making it harder to give the ball the high trajectory it needs to fly out of the bunker.

Make sure you play the shot with your weight back so as you shallow out your swing arc.

Playing from hard packed sand

Begin by acknowledging that the ball will tend to sit on top of compacted sand.

Where you find sand compacted hard packed due to being wet or on a links course you need to play shots where the leading edge cuts more into the sand. This is achieved by keeping the clubhead square and swinging with a square stance. This will prevent the clubhead bouncing off the sand and blading the ball.

Move your weight forward so as you can drive through and dig the ball out by ensuring the leading edge strikes the sand first rather than the flange.

How To Play From Different Lies

Much like playing from the fairway there’s no guarantee you will find your ball in a perfectly flat lie every time. Hence this section covers how best to play from bunker slopes and what to do if you find your ball plugged or buried.

Uphill bunker shot

Set up by playing the ball off your front foot as you would with a flat lie. Make sure you play with your weight on the back foot. This will allow you to shallow out the bottom of the arc as much as possible.

You need to play for the fact that the ball will come out high, thus can be countered by not opening the face so much.

Where the slope is very steep you need to imagine you are chopping wood, but instead of having an axe in your hands you have a sand wedge. The technique is to then bury the club about an inch behind the ball and swing through to a high finish.

Downhill bunker shot

When you play from a downhill slope the ball will come out low and run a lot when it lands. Thus you may like to experiment with a 60 degree wedge to add a little more loft.

Play with your weight forward so as you can drive the clubhead underneath the ball. Playing the ball a little further forward than you would on a flat lie will make the shot a little easier.

Buried bunker shot

In order to excavate a ball from a buried lie (sometimes called a fried egg lie) you need to effectively chop it out by swinging up and down with a closed face. The trick is to close the face by 30 degrees as this will part the sand as you swing through. Swinging with a square face is ineffective as you will end up digging out too much sand without getting under the ball.

Position the ball in the middle of your stance, swing with a steeper downswing than normal and strike the sand an inch before the ball.

It’s difficult to spin the ball from such a lie and in reality you should be simply happy to extract the ball from such a terrible position. Your control will be limited as the ball will come out with a lot of top spin.

Uphill buried bunker shot

Play with your weight forward to maximise the chances of the club hitting the sand under the ball. It’s important to keep your hands ahead of the club. Open the face and draw on the allegory of chopping a tree as you drive the club face into the sand.

Downhill buried bunker shot

As with an uphill buried lie you need to keep your weight forward. Play the ball further in your stance than you normally would. The ball comes out lower and thus it’s crucial you learn to lean into shot and keep your hands ahead of the club.

How To Play From Different Bunkers

This final section looks at the differences between playing from a fairway bunker and a greenside bunker.

Fairway bunker shot

When faced with a long bunker shot the goal should be to nip the ball off the surface with a three quarter swing. Don’t hit the sand, but instead catch the ball cleanly. Hit the ball first as if you were playing a pitch shot. By playing the ball back in your stance you increase the chances of hitting the ball first.

Instead of digging your feet into the sand, tread lightly so as you maintain your height. You can increase your control by gripping down the grip and slowing your golf swing down.

Take one or two extra clubs compared if you were on the fairway hitting the ball the same distance to the target, but not at the expense of being unable to clear the bunker lip in front of you.

Greenside bunker

In a greenside bunker typically follow the steps above for a splash shot.

On occasion it is better to use a pitching wedge with a lower bounce angle for playing out of shallow bunkers with low lips where there is space to run the ball up to the hole. Chipping from sand is the same as chipping from grass apart from taking your grip further down the club. One final word, you can produce a better crisp contact by focusing on left side of ball and not right.

4 Responses to “How To Easily Improve Your Bunker Shots”

  1. Mike says:

    Hi Andy, this is excellent advice. I only took the game up 2 years ago and last year was having problems in bunkers sometimes taking as many as 4 strokes to get out, so had a lesson with the club pro and the 8 step splash bunker shot above is exactly how he told me to play in bunkers. This helped my general bunker play but I will now take your advice about playing up/down hill shots and buried shots, as well as fairway and greenside bunkers shots as these specific areas were not covered. Thanks for the advice.

  2. Andy Brown says:

    Hi Ron, as you look down on the back of the ball I recommend focusing on the left hand side of the ball to increase your chances of nipping the ball off the sand. Cheers Andy

  3. Ron says:

    Last sentence says “focus on left side of ball” for crisp contact. Which left? as you look down on ball? left of target line?

  4. Arno says:

    Thanks Andy, this helped me a lot!!!

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