How To Hit A Bunker Shot

Most amateur golfers and beginners in particular dread bunker shots. A positive mindset when it comes to bunkers is half the battle won but confidence won’t solve all your bunker shot problems, good technique is equally as important. 

Below we are going to take a closer look at the different types of bunker shots and we are also going to unpack the basic fundamentals required for hitting good bunker shots. Furthermore, we will also look at some drills that you can do to ensure that your bunker game gets elevated to the next level. 

Different Bunker Shot Types

Greenside Bunker Shot

The name says it all, greenside bunker shots are short bunker shots from bunkers next to the green. These bunker shots can differ quite a bit in terms of distance and difficulty based on where the flag is situated on the green. 

The main thing with greenside bunker shots is consistency. More often than not golfers get too aggressive when it comes to greenside bunker shots, for high handicappers in particular the most important part is to get out of the bunker and safely onto the green with your first attempt. Attempting that nearly impossible bunker shot with almost no green to work with is thrilling but when it all goes wrong the consequences will be seen on your scorecard.  

In the market for a new sand wedge? Check out our The 5 Best Golf Sand Wedges article. 

Long Bunker Shot

A long bunker shot is arguably the most difficult shot in golf. Long bunker shots vary in distance from about 50 to 100 yards and with these shots the bunker isn’t located directly next to the green. The bunker’s proximity to the green with a long bunker shot is what makes this shot so difficult. 

Long bunker shots require good technique, a committed swing, and practice. The only way to improve your long bunker play is to practice this shot which is something that very few amateur players do. 

Fairway Bunker Shot

Fairway bunker shots are very similar to normal iron shots and vary in distance from roughly 100 yards and up depending on how far you hit a full LW or SW. With a few small adjustments in setup fairway bunker shots will go from being your worst nightmare to an opportunity to show off your skills. 

In addition to technique amateur golfers and beginners, in particular, make the mistake of being too ambitious when it comes to fairway bunker shots. It can be a bitter pill to swallow at times but always make sure to get out of the bunker with your first attempt, even if that means that you have to take a wedge and hit out sideways. 

Basic Bunker Shot Fundamentals

Stance and Ball Position

Greenside Bunker Shot

The correct stance goes a long way in ensuring success with greenside bunker shots. With a greenside bunker shot the ball needs to be positioned towards the front of your stance just inside your left heel (right heel for left-handed players). 

In addition to positioning the ball towards the front of your stance with greenside bunker shots, it is important to have an open stance in relation to your target. With an open stance, your upper body will have space to move through the shot and it promotes an out to in swing path. 

Long Bunker Shot

When it comes to long bunker shots ball position and stance depend on the chosen shot type. With long bunker shots, players can either elect to use more loft if carry is required over a piece of fairway or other bunkers, alternatively less loft can be chosen to allow for roll if a player has a considerable amount of green to work with. 

For shots with a more lofted club, an open stance and forward ball position is recommended, this will ensure maximum stopping power on the green thanks to cut spin as a result of an out to in swing path. 

With a lower lofted club in hand, a slightly less open stance is recommended. Ball position however still needs to remain towards the inside of your front foot. With a stance that is almost square but still slightly open, a more neutral swing path will ensure roll once the ball lands on the green. Furthermore, a forward ball position will ensure adequate height to clear the lip of the bunker. 

Fairway Bunker Shot

With fairway bunker shots a normal stance is recommended. At the end of the day, a fairway bunker shot is no different from a normal iron shot from a sandy instead of a grassy lie. 

If you are hitting a 7 iron out of a fairway bunker position the ball as you normally would in your stance. In terms of aiming, align your feet towards your intended target as you normally would with any normal iron shot. More often than not amateurs and beginners overthink things when it comes to a fairway bunker shot, by keeping it simple you might just amaze yourself the next time you find yourself in a fairway bunker. 

Weight Distribution

Greenside Bunker and Long Bunker Shots

Good weight distribution is very important when hitting both a greenside and long bunker shot. For both of these types of bunker shots, it is vital to have a 60/40 weight distribution with 60% on the front foot and 40% on the back foot. 

A 60/40 weight distribution will ensure a good stable base and it will also promote a steeper angle of attack which is vital for both greenside and long bunker shots. 

Fairway Bunker Shot

With fairway bunker shots the best course of action is to stick to your regular weight distribution when hitting iron shots. For most players, their regular weight distribution for iron play will be a 50/50 split. 

One small change in terms of weight distribution when in a fairway bunker is the positioning of the weight in your right foot. Normally weight will be distributed equally between the front and back of your foot. When in a fairway bunker move the weight of your back foot towards the inside of the foot. 

By moving the weight to the inside of your back foot mobility in this foot will be limited which is vital for ensuring a solid base. A solid base is a must in a fairway bunker to ensure good clean impact. 

Angle of Attack and Clubface Angle

Greenside and Long Bunker Shots

With greenside and long bunker shots an open clubface at address is recommended. How much the clubface is opened will determine the trajectory and spin on the shot. With that in mind, a more open clubface will be used for greenside bunker shots and a slightly more closed face angle in comparison to long bunker shots.

In terms of angle of attack, a steeper angle of attack is required when hitting greenside and long bunker shots. A steeper angle of attack is required to get the club through the sand and to get height and spin on the ball. 

Fairway Bunker Shot

Fairway bunker shots are no different from a regular iron or hybrid/fairway wood shot, the only difference is a change in lie and a bunker lip that has to be contended with. 

With long and greenside bunker shots the clubface gets opened up depending on the desired trajectory and spin. With fairway bunker shots the face angle remains the same as it would have when hitting a regular iron or hybrid/fairway wood. 

In terms of angle of attack, a slightly downward angle is best to ensure clean contact out of a fairway bunker. If your angle of attack is too shallow the club will hit the sand before making contact with the golf ball which will have a dramatic impact on distance. 

On the flip side if your angle of attack is too steep you will run into a different set of problems. Thinned shots lack height and control and a thin shot will either hit the lip of the bunker or if it does clear the lip it won’t have any spin once it hits the green.

Bunker Shot Drills

Line in the Sand

Most amateur golfers struggle with taking the perfect amount of sand when hitting a bunker shot. Amateurs and beginners in particular either hit too far behind the ball or they take no sand at all which in return results in inconsistency from a distance point of view. 

For consistent distance control taking the perfect amount of sand is a must. A great way to practice hitting the perfect distance behind the ball when in the bunker is with the help of the line in the sand drill. Simply throw a few balls into the practice bunker and draw a line in the sand directly behind the ball. When hitting your bunker shots, try to hit the line, this clear target will assist with learning how to take the perfect amount of sand on every shot. The knock-on effect of this drill will be consistent bunker shots and great distance control. 

Towel Drill

In principle bunker shots and chip shots are very similar, the only difference is surface and the use of a slightly different technique. Similar to when hitting a chip shot distance control is vital when hitting a bunker shot. 

To improve distance control, knowing where to land the ball is very important. In addition to distance control, your landing spot also needs to account for break on the green once the golf ball starts rolling. A great way to practice hitting your landing spot is with the towel drill. Simply place a towel folded in a square on the green where you think the ball should land. Go ahead and hit your bunker shots intending to land it on the towel. 

It might be that your landing spot needs to be adjusted after a couple of shots, in addition to moving your landing spot don’t be afraid to change it up by using a different club or shot type instead to match the shot with the landing spot. 

Up and Down Drill

Practice can be very boring and bunker practice, in particular, is one of the areas that most amateurs avoid practicing for that exact reason. To make bunker practice a bit more fun and exciting without sacrificing efficiency the up and down drill is a must to have in your drill library. 

Take one golf ball and hit 9 different bunker shots from different spots to different holes around the practice area. After each shot, put out your ball and keep score, use this score as your benchmark to beat every time you do this drill. 

Final Thoughts

There is no denying that bunker shots are hard, all golfers have a story to tell about a dreaded experience in a bunker. At the end of the day, bad bunker shots are inevitable but with good technique and the right shot choice, bad bunker experiences can be limited. 

When it comes to the basics of good bunker shots regardless if it is a fairway or greenside bunker shot the correct stance, weight distribution, angle of attack, and clubface angle will go a long way in ensuring good results from the sand. 

Last but not least good bunker play requires practice. Instead of bashing drivers as far as you can the next time you go to the driving range rather spend 30 mins practicing your bunker shots, this might just save you 2 or 3 shots per round. 

This article was last updated on March 24, 2021 .

Bertine Strauss
Written by
Bertine Strauss
The Golf Blog