How to Hit a BUNKER SHOT: Setup Guide + Swing Tips

How to Get Out of a Sand Trap Guide

In this article we will help you learn how to hit a golf bunker shot. The golf bunker shot is one of the most dreaded golf shots you will face on a golf course and leave you wishing you avoided the sand trap. The sand bunker, also known as a “sand trap”, is designed to be an obstacle between you and the green, making it more difficult on you to make par.

Below you will find Golf Instructor Nick Foy’s most important golf bunker tips to keep in mind when preparing to hit your golf bunker shot out of the sand. These golf bunker tips include:

  • Pick the right club
  • Wide stance in sand bunkers
  • Weight position has to be on the front foot
  • Open the club face
  • Importance of a big swing
  • Maintain the loft of the club
  • Step into the bunker with the correct mindset
  • The importance of speed during golf bunker shots

In addition, we will cover how to analyze your lie when your golf ball ends up in a sand bunker. Depending on what type of lie you have in the golf bunker will dictate the technique and what type of swing you need to take to hit the ball out of the bunker successfully.

In addition to these golf bunker shot tips, we also wrote an article covering the best golf bunker drills to practice that is worth a read!

Okay let’s dive into today’s guide on how to get out of a sand trap with ease.


Golf Tips: Bunker Shots

1. Select the Right Club for a Sand Shot

Before you step into the bunker, make sure you bring the correct golf club for this shot type. Ideally, you want to use a wedge like a sand wedge or a lob wedge. If you take a club with less loft than those two wedge choices, then you’ll need to open the face a good amount to add loft back.

2. Evaluate the Sand and Golf Ball’s Lie

As you approach the bunker, analyze the golf ball’s lie to see if it’s sitting on top of the sand or buried.

Next, assess the sand itself. Is it soft and dry or is it wet and compact?

For wet, compact sand we want to shut the face more during setup and for dry, lighter sand (fluffy) we want to open the face to allow the bounce to glide through the sand.

For buried or plugged lies, such as the fried egg bunker shot, we want to shut the face more to hit with the leading edge of the club instead of using the bounce. This will help dig the ball out of the buried sand.

3. Wider Stance for Bunker Shots

As you step into the bunker and take your golf stance, make sure the stance width is wider than normal for a wedge shot. This gives you some extra stability.

Also make sure to dig your feet into the sand a little bit. Practice taking different depths with your feet, going deeper vs shallower and how it affects your stability and swing outcome (higher vs lower flighted shot).

4. Weight shifted more forward onto the front foot

Align your feet slightly left of your target. This means opening up the stance a little bit in relation to your target. This will not only allow for a swing path that is out to in, but it will also produce a steeper angle of attack which is what we are looking for when hitting a bunker shot.

Ball position should be more forward in your stance.

The last key component of the setup is to ensure that roughly 60% of your weight is on your front foot (the left foot for right handed players).

For left handed players it will be your right foot that serves as your front leg.

Setting up correctly is half of the battle won towards better bunker play. Try these golf bunker swing setup tips to increase your odds of making a solid swing out of the bunker.

Start Following These Practices —> Nick Foy Golf Practice System

5. Take a Bigger Backswing

Amateur golfers often times get stuck in the thought pattern of short shot thus I need a short backswing. But when we are hitting a golf bunker shot the opposite is actually true.

It is important to take a full backswing when hitting a bunker shot for different reasons.

The first reason is for generation of speed, a key component for a good bunker shot.

Golf swing speed is a very important component when hitting a bunker shot. Without adequate speed, the club won’t be able to move through the sand and the ball won’t get out of the bunker.

Another outcome that can occur when you don’t generate enough swing speed on your bunker shot is you will blade the ball either over the green or into the bunker lip in front of you.

Taking a big backswing will allow the club to pick up momentum and speed.

Secondly taking a big backswing will improve your rhythm.

Often times, players take a short backswing and by the time they realize they need speed in order to get the club through the sand, it’s too late.

Having a big backswing allows the the club to travel back down to the ball and through the sand with speed and smooth rhythm.

Do not try and accelerate through the hitting area as a last gasp effort to obtain speed. Let it happen naturally as a result of a bigger backswing during your bunker shot.

6. Maintain the loft of the club

When hitting a bunker shot the goal is for the club to enter the sand just behind the ball. The speed of the golf swing will assist the ball out of the sand and the loft on the club will determine the height of the shot.

Height is an important factor in a successful golf bunker shot. The higher the ball comes out of the bunker, the softer it will land on the green and the quicker it will stop.

When hitting a bunker shot, open the clubface at address and aim left of the target to set the face so that the loft is maintained on the club throughout the shot.

Use the bounce of the club to glide under the ball and through the sand. If you lean the club shaft forward too much, you’ll deloft the face and eliminate the natural bounce of the club, causing shots to dig instead of glide.

7. Finish Through the Shot, Don’t Lean Back

One common swing fault made in the sand trap is leaning back during the bunker shot. This is poor technique and will produce chunks and inconsistent shots out of the sand.

Instead, you want to swing through the ball and maintain balance, getting forward into your finish.

You can practice one legged bunker shots off your front leg, by picking your back foot up onto tippy toes.

8. Have confidence when you step into the sand bunker

The majority of amateur golfers are doomed before they even step foot into the sand to hit their bunker shots.

They’ve already had lots of negative self talk saying things to themselves like “don’t go in the bunker”, “I can’t hit out of the sand”, or “If I go in the bunker, I’ll never get out.”

It is super important to have a positive outlook and to focus on what you want to do successfully in golf instead of thinking about what can go wrong.

Another important mental aspect to keep in mind is to choose a smart shot out of the bunker.

If you are faced with a tough lie, or have very little green to work with, choose the golf bunker shot that will ensure that your next shot will be a putt. In other words, focus on just getting the ball onto the green.

There is nothing wrong with aiming away from the flagstick and instead aiming towards the big safe part of the green. Being greedy will only cost you extra strokes on the scorecard.

Start Following These Practices —> Nick Foy Golf Practice System

Types of Lies in a Sand Bunker

Plugged Lie

One of the worst lies you can face in a sand bunker is when the ball plugs. This is when the golf ball buries itself deeper down into the sand as opposed to sitting up on top of the sand.

The plugged lie is also known as a “fried egg” if you ever hear these golf terms used to describe the bunker shot.

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.

A plugged lie will require a steep golf swing so you can come down into the ball with a steeper angle of attack to help blast the ball out of the plugged lie.

Flat Lie

The ideal bunker shot to face is one where the ball is sitting on a flat lie. This is where the golf ball lies on top of the sand and it’s a flat portion of the bunker which will allow you to make an easier swing on the ball.

Uphill Lie

Sometimes your golf ball will end up near the lip of the bunker and sit on an uphill slope. This is known as the uphill lie and it can actually be used to create more height on the shot since the upward slope can help the ball fly higher vertically.

Adjust your set up so your shoulders are on the same plane as the slope of the bunker. Tilt your shoulders until they match the angle of the uphill lie.

Downhill Lie

One of the worst golf bunker shots to face is the downhill lie. This is where the golf ball just barely made it to the bunker and is sitting on the downhill slope with the bunker lip behind the ball.

This creates a difficult shot because you’ll have to analyze if your golf club will make contact with the bunker lip or not.

You’ll also have to adjust your stance, which will be awkward if one foot has to be outside of the bunker. Your shoulders will need to tilt so the angle matches the downhill slope of the bunker.

The ball is going to come out hot with some roll, so make sure to maintain as much loft as you can to help the ball fly more vertically and less horizontally so it has a chance of stopping on the green, rather than rolling off to the other side.

Start Following These Practices —> Nick Foy Golf Practice System

Golf Bunker Shot Types Explained

Greenside Bunker Shots

A greenside bunker shot is one where the ball went into a sand bunker up by the green. Most golf courses have bunkers and they usually are strategically placed around the green to make it more difficult for your approach shots to hit the green.

Fairway Bunker Shot

In addition to greenside bunkers, golf course developers will also locate bunkers along the sides of the fairway or protruding out into the middle of the fairway.

A fairway bunker is often placed around the distance that the average golfer hits their tee shot. This adds an obstacle for the golfer to account for when deciding where to aim their tee shot. Golf strategy comes into play when you see fairway bunkers.

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.

Final Thoughts on the Golf Bunker Shot

Golf 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!

Start by choosing the right club for the type of bunker shot you face. On greenside bunkers, a wedge with lots of loft will likely be the best choice. For fairway bunkers you can use an iron that will get the ball the right distance to the green or a fairway wood / hybrid if you’re comfortable with it.

Remember, before hitting your bunker shot it’s important to analyze your lie first. Make sure that your shoulders run parallel with the slope if the ball isn’t sitting on a flat lie in the bunker. 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 golf 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 golf bunker and hit lots of sand 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.

Golf Practice System for Lower Scores

Learn the exact golf practice routines thousands of students at Foy Golf Academy are using to lower their golf scores.

Follow these step by step practice plans and watch video lessons to learn how to improve your golf swing, chipping, and putting fundamentals.

Get access to hundreds of golf drills to practice as well as content on the mental side of golf, fitness plans, worksheets, and many more resources. This is a complete golf practice system.

Start Following These Practices —> Nick Foy Golf Practice System

Work hard,

Nick Foy, Instructor

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