How to Play Bunker Shots Properly

Bunker shots strike fear into the hearts of many golfers. For the longest time I was absolutely terrified when my ball landed in a bunker. Once you have the right information on how to play the shot properly, it is actually not all that hard to safely land your ball on the green.

In this article I am going to share some information from one of the top short-game specialists out there, Brandon Stooksbury. He is the author of The Wedge Book, which I highly recommend.

Once we go over some basics on how to play standard bunker shots properly, I'll show you a video from our Insider program that ties everything together.

Dispelling Some Myths

The first thing to understand is that you are not actually making contact with the ball on bunker shots. Your club is sliding underneath the ball using the bounce of your wedge. You hit the sand first, and it actually propels the ball out of the bunker. Many golfers don't know this, and they end up hitting it thin because they are trying to actually hit the ball.

Additionally, you do not need to open your stance or "swing left" across your body. That has been the conventional wisdom for a long time, and it simply is not necessary anymore with modern wedges. In fact, it might make it harder to play this shot properly.

Setting up for Success

In order to play bunker shots properly you need to have the correct setup. Here are some basics you should know:

  • Aim your feet square to the target: It is not necessary to aim anywhere but exactly where you want the ball to go on bunker shots.
  • Play the ball up in your stance: For a standard trajectory shot you can place the ball halfway between your front foot and the middle of your body. If you want it to go even higher you can place the ball on the inside of your lead heel.
  • Open the Clubface: In order for the bounce of the club to do its work, the clubface needs to be open somewhat. A good rule of thumb is to have the grooves of the wedge pointing towards the middle of your lead foot.

Keys for Bunker Shots

You don't need to make any kind of special swing for bunker shots, but here are a couple of things you should be aware of.

  • Minimize Forward Shaft Lean: One thing you want to make sure is that your hands are not getting ahead of the ball on bunker shots. This will expose the leaning edge of your wedge, and cause the club to dig. Instead you almost want to feel as though your hands are arriving to the ball at the same time as the club.
  • Hit the Sand Behind the Ball: You are not making contact with the golf ball! You want your club to enter the sand just behind the ball, and slide underneath the ball. If you have access to a practice facility, try making contact with different parts of the sand behind the ball. You will see how this alters the trajectory and shot quality.
  • Transfer Weight to Your Front Foot: You want to feel as though your are transferring weight to your front foot as you make contact with the sand. Many golfers have a tendency to fall backwards on this shot, and it prevents them from making proper contact.

See it in Action

Here are two videos that show you how to play a standard trajectory bunker shot and a high trajectory one.

These are samples from our Insider Membership. If you want access to more videos like these you can find out more about becoming a member here. We have information from some of the top instructors in the industry as well as exclusive discounts to hand-selected golf brands.

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