Bunker Shot Basics, Tips, and Stance Setup

When I first started playing golf, my bunker skills were so bad that I tried to avoid the sand traps because I knew it would add a few extra strokes every time I land in them.

It takes lots of practice and hours wacking shots out of the sand to see improvement in your bunker shots but it’s totally worth it. Being able to see the ball fly from the sand trap, land on the green, and roll up close to the hole is one of the great feelings in golf.

I’d love to help you experience this joy and success more often so let’s dive into my ultimate guide on bunker play for golfers. We will be discussing 3 main types of bunker shots.

Common Bunker Shot Types:

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

And I’d love if you attempt my free skills assessment challenge so you can test skills in all areas of your golf game and not only your bunker play. Download your copy of the assessment here.

The 3 Basic Bunker Shots Explained

Short bunker shot

Short bunker shots are shots where you’re already close to the green (within 5 yards of it) and many professionals call these “greenside bunkers” if we want to be specific. On short bunker shots the aim is to get the ball high into the air in order for it to land softly onto the green. A high lofted club is preferred for this type of shot. I often use my 60 degree wedge as does Phil Mickelson.

Long bunker shot

Long bunkers shots are more challenging than short bunker shots because you’re covering more ground between the bunker and the green. It can be defined as a shot that needs to carry a considerable amount of distance before it reaches the green (10+ yards). The more common long bunker shot is the fairway bunker which is often 100-150 yards away from the green. But you may also run into bunkers between 10-50 yards from the green too.

Plugged lie bunker shot

The plugged lie, or fried egg, isn’t a very pleasant lie to deal with, but unfortunately it is something that every golfer will face at some point. Your ball is plugged when it is stuck in the sand in its own pitch mark. 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.

Now that we have defined the 3 types of bunker shots, let’s get more into the proper swing technique for each.

Bunker Shot Technique & Stance Tips

Short bunker shot technique

For a short bunker shot the objective is to get the ball high into the air in order for it to land softly on the green. For this shot your highest lofted wedge will be the club of choice. Set up to the ball with a stance that is open in relation to the target and with a front ball position (forward in your stance). Ideally, the ball should sit just inside the heel of your lead/front foot.

Open the clubface a little bit to add loft, and make sure that your weight distribution is about 60/40 with 60% being on your lead leg so your weight is centered more forward. This will help you make crisper contact with the ball in the bunker.

Once you are all set up use your shoulders to swing the club along your feet line, thus it will result in the clubface cutting across the ball since we opened the face slightly relative to our address line.

Lastly, make sure to accelerate through impact with the sand. Speed is a key factor for good bunker play and many players who struggle do so because of a decelerating swing into the bunker shot.

Long bunker shot technique

The long bunker shot is more complex than a short bunker shot, but if your general bunker technique is sound then long bunker shots will be a breeze. The most efficient way to hit a long bunker shot is to use a setup that is similar to what we discussed above about the short bunker shot.

The only change will be the use of a different club. Depending on the lie, you may need a high lofted club to clear the bunker’s lip. If it’s a flat bunker, like most fairway bunkers, then you could face a situation where a 3 wood works.

Always remember to keep at least 60% of your weight on your front foot, and to accelerate through the sand at impact.

If you’re in range of using a short iron or wedge, we recommend using a 9 iron or pitching wedge because it will be easier for the ball to roll out to the flag once it lands on the green.

Remember, the most important part about a long bunker shot is to get the ball out of the bunker and onto the green. Don’t expect to get it as close to the hole and don’t be over greedy costing yourself strokes. Maybe being aggressive on long bunker shots works sometimes, but at the end of the day consistency will save you the most shots.

Plugged lie bunker shot technique

Plugged lies in the bunker suck. And it often times gets worse when it plugs near the lip of the bunker on a downhill slope. But here’s the trick..

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. Once you are set up, completely close the clubface.

Even if you try to overdo it you won’t. Then accelerate through the sand at impact like with a normal bunker shot and it will pop it up into the air. This method might sound extreme, but if you give it a try you might just be amazed at the results.

Sand Bunker Practice drills

Line in the sand

Majority of amateur golfers have a really hard time hitting consistent bunker shots. In general players either hit too far behind it and as a result the ball stays in the sand, or they hit it clean and it goes flying over the back of the green.

In order to hit consistently good bunker shots it is important to hit just far enough behind the ball that you take the perfect amount of sand when hitting the shot.

A good way to practice this is to draw a line in the sand with the toe of your club, place a ball directly in front of the line, and then 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.

Hit bunker shots with different clubs

Once you’re comfortable hitting out of bunkers with a go to club, then work on other clubs in your bag. Get good with each because you may face different situations where each club will be needed. The carry and roll will be different for each club so learn how the ball checks up once it lands on the green for each club you practice with.

When the pin is back further in the green and you need more roll out, use a less lofted club. For shots with little green to work with between the bunker and the hole, take your highest lofted wedge and open it up to give even more loft.

Don’t be scared to experiment with different clubs in the bunker, adding new shots to your repertoire is essential, you never know when you might have to use that newly acquired shot.

Golf Bunker Play Tips Conclusion

Bunker shots are difficult, but with the correct technique and some practice you will be able to turn a weakness into a strength.

A key thought to remember is to always analyze your lie before hitting a shot.  Always make sure that your shoulders run parallel with the slope as this will allow you to swing with the slope and not against it.

This swing thought is key for any golf shot, not just for bunker shots and by being mindful of this your consistency with improve even more.

Start off mastering the standard bunker shot from green side using a wedge and then once you are confident with that, learn new shots with other clubs. It won’t take long to master these other clubs because each requires just a minor adjustment.

Overall, instead of being scared of a bunker shot like most amateurs are, embrace them like a pro and lower your scores in the process. Get so good at them that you actually get excited to go in the bunker like the pro’s do.

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