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How to Hit Better Bunker Shots in Golf

Imagine the day where you land in a sand bunker next to the green and you’re able to hit a beautiful shot out onto the green that lands soft, and rolls up tight to the hole for an easy putt.

The dream right?

But I bet you’re here today because you are currently struggling with your bunker shots. And you’re not alone. Golfers that have played the game for years are still trying to figure out the best way to hit a bunker shot.

Today we’re going to outline some simple golf tips to help you improve your bunker shots and no longer dread landing in the sand. Sound good?

Practice Plans to Follow:

Good Bunker Shot Technique

In order to be an excellent bunker player like Phil Mickelson, you must be ready to develop a sound technique and commit to it. This will help you swing with confidence and get the ball to react as expected out of the bunker.

Unfortunately, many amateurs and beginners don’t put as much focus and emphasis on practicing in the bunkers during their practice time. If you’re here reading this article, you must be pretty serious about making change and finally figuring out the bunker game to make your short game improve overall.

There are a variety of lies you’ll face in a sand bunker as well as a variety of bunker shot types.

You’ll apply similar technique to all, but there are some variances which we will discuss short below. Let’s first break down the types of bunker shots you can expect to face on a golf course and then dive into the proper technique for each.

Golf Bunker Shot Types Explained

  • Short bunker shot
  • Long bunker shot
  • Plugged lie bunker shot

Short bunker shot

Short bunker shots are just as they sound. The ball doesn’t need to be in the air vary long to get out of the bunker and reach the green. Also, the flag is closer towards the edge of the green so not much roll out is needed on the bunker shot.

The goal is to get the golf ball high into the air so that it lands softly on the green with lots of backspin. You’ll want to use a high lofted club like lob wedge. Phil Mickelson, for example, would pull out his 60 degree lob wedge.

Long bunker shot

Long bunkers shots are the more challenging shot of the two. It can de defined as a shot that needs to carry a considerable amount of distance before it reaches the green (10+ yards), and once the ball does reach the green it needs to travel at least another 15 – 20 yards before it gets to the hole.

Long bunker shots can be played with a variety of different clubs depending on the situation. If there is a considerable amount of green that the ball can roll on, then using a lower lofted wedge or even a 9-iron will be the preferred club of choice.

This helps take off spin so the ball can roll more upon landing and you won’t have to put as much focus on carrying the ball to the flag with proper distance control. It’s easier to focus on the distance control needed to get it on the green sooner and let it roll out the majority of the distance like a putt.

Plugged lie bunker shot

The plugged lie, or fried egg is one of the worst golf shots to face during your round and can be a disaster to deal with if you don’t make good contact with the ball on the first swing attempt.

But it’s a shot you’re going to face at some point so learning the proper technique later below will be super helpful and could save you several strokes keeping you from blowing up with a triple or quadruple bogey.

When you are faced with a plugged lie the most important thing is to get the ball out of the bunker and onto the green.

There are a couple of different ways to play this shot, but playing it with a closed, hooded clubface will give you the best chance of getting the ball out of the bunker and onto the green.

Let’s jump into the different techniques for each of the bunker shots discussed thus far.

Proper Bunker Shot Technique Explained

Technique for a Short Bunker Shot

The goal with this shot is to launch the ball high into the air, land soft, and roll out very little especially when the pin is tight to the edge of the green and we have little room to land it.

First, grab a high lofted wedge from your bag. Then set up to the ball with your stance open in relation to the flag stick target you’re aiming at.

Move the ball position forward in your stance so you can catch it more with a sweeping motion rather than digging at it if it was in the back of your stance. Just inside the front foot’s heel is an ideal ball position.

Open the clubface on your high-lofted wedge to add some extra loft to the club. Adjust your body weight so that it shifts forward slightly putting 60% of the weight on your front foot and 40% on your back foot.

Keep the lower body still during the swing, using your shoulders and arms. Your body weight distribution should remain the same 60/40 during the bunker shot.

Once you are all set up, use your shoulders to swing the club along your open stance line. This will result in the clubface cutting across the ball.

Lastly, make sure to accelerate through impact with the sand. Speed is a key factor for good bunker play. Most beginners decelerate and let the club dig into the sand.

We want to hit strong and through, blasting the ball out of the sand, letting the loft of the wedge stay wide open to pop the ball up high into the air.

Technique for a Long bunker Shot

The long bunker shot technique is very similar to the short bunker shot. You’ll want an open stand, ball position forward, and accelerate through the swing using your shoulders to take the club back and through.

The main difference is club selection. You’ll want to switch out the lob wedge for a club with less spin like a 9 iron so once the ball lands on the green it will roll more.

Plugged Lie Bunker Shot

The fried egg is no fun and I’m sorry if you have to face it often on a golf course! But, hey at least you’ll have the secret set up to increase your chances of getting out of the messy lie and onto the green.

The main objective when you are faced with a plugged lie is to get the ball out and onto the green. Keep your expectations low for getting it close to the hole and be happy that you escaped the bunker!

The most effective club to use to get out of a plugged lie is either a sand wedge or a 60 degree lob wedge. Set up to the ball with a slightly open stance, and with the ball position on your front foot.

After getting your stance set up, completely close the club face and if you try to overdo it you won’t.

Next comes the swing and here is an important tip. Accelerate through the sand at impact like with a normal bunker shot, you can’t afford to decelerate on a plugged lie.

I know this swing technique might sound extreme, but if you give it a try you’ll be surprised at how well it works.

Bunker Practice Drills

Line in the Sand Drill

Consistency is the one thing most golfers lack when it comes to bunker shots. You can hit what you’d consider “lucky” shot once in awhile but you probably lack consistency of doing it frequently.

This usually is a fault of not hitting the right distance behind the golf ball and taking the right amount of sand on each bunker shot.

Most players either hit too far behind the ball or hit too close to the ball, rocketing it across the green. To fix the inconsistency, try the Line in the Sand golf drill.

This drill requires you to draw a line in the sand with the toe of your club, and then place a ball directly in front of the line. Instead of hitting at the ball, hit the line directly behind the ball.

This drill will help you to hit consistently good bunker shots by taking just the right amount of sand on every shot.

To clarify, this golf bunker drill is meant for practice sessions, obviously, as you can’t draw a line in the sand during a competitive round of golf.

Practice Bunker Shots with Different Golf Clubs

Every bunker shot is going to be different. You’ll need to carry the ball different distances just to clear the bunker. You’ll also have different distances between the bunker and the flag on the green.

This requires you to get comfortable with multiple golf clubs in your bag so you can hit shots with different amounts of loft to change up the amount of roll out your bunker shots have once they land on the green.

Practice first with your lob wedges but also move down to a 9-iron or pitching wedge to work on shots that are further away from you that need more roll once they come out of the bunker.

Ready to Practice Your Bunker Skills?

Bunker shots are difficult, but with the correct swing technique and some practice you will be able to turn a weakness into a strength. Come at it with a positive mindset!

Remember, before hitting every bunker shot it’s important to analyze your lie. Also, always make sure that your shoulders run parallel with the slope. This will allow you to swing with the slope and not against it.

To help your stance find stability, make sure to dig your feet into the sand a little bit as well during your set up.

Practice your set up for 15-20 minutes in a practice bunker if possible at your golf course.

If they don’t have one then run through the checklist of swing technique tips we highlighted today until you have them memorized and they come to mind quickly when you get in a bunker on the golf course.

After you master the basic bunker shot, you can make minor adjustments to account for different lies and pin positions on the green.

Overall, spend a solid 100 reps per week in a bunker, hit lots of shots to build consistency of getting out of the bunker. This will also help you start building feel for how the ball rolls and you can adjust loft to get it to roll more or less to help you get closer to the hole for up and down par saves.

Before you go, you’ll want to check out these golf practice plans if you found today’s article helpful. Here’s the full list of practice plans for different types of golfers and needs.

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