How To Hit Out Of The Bunker

Before describing how to properly hit out of the bunker, it’s important to make the distinction between fairway and greenside bunkers.  When you are in a greenside bunker, you’re typically about 5-50 yards from the hole, and when you’re in a fairway bunker you’re obviously much farther away.  Thus, as you might suspect, the technique that is needed depends on whether you’re in a greenside bunker or fairway bunker.  Below I will be discussing such techniques in considerable detail.2408476737_2ca3cf5ca7_z

Many amateurs, when starting out as a novice, put a disproportionately large amount of focus and time on their tee game — hitting drivers and irons off tees or off of the grass.  This shouldn’t be surprising.  After all, that is typically all one can do at the driving range.  Of course, bunker play tends to be neglected as a result, and that’s a bad thing because if you don’t know how to hit a bunker shot you could end up shooting a catastrophically high score.  It’s very important to know how to hit the essential shots in golf, whether it be a chip, a pitch, a drive, or a bunker shot.

So, what’s the basic idea?  It’s actually not quite as simple as simply “hitting” at the ball.  Note that in this article I will be assuming that the ball is in a decent lie in the bunker and not buried.  Dealing with buried lies is something I will cover elsewhere.

Let’s get right into it, starting with the greenside bunker.

The Greenside Bunker Shot

If played correctly, the greenside bunker shot is the only golf shot in which you are not actually hitting the golf ball.  The key to hitting these bunker shots is to hit a couple of inches behind the ball (typically two), going underneath the ball through the sand and letting the sand itself lift the ball into the air.  Funnily enough, amateurs often perform this shot well because most tend to hit behind the ball as it is.  There are a couple of things you should note if you want to be a good bunker player:

  • Use more bounce and less leading edge.  This means that you should use a more lofted club (like a sand wedge, 56-60 degrees) so that the club can slide underneath the ball rather than dig into the sand.
  • The farther you want to hit your bunker shot, the closer you should hit behind the ball.  If you want a higher trajectory, open your clubface and adjust your alignment to compensate.

It’s important that you follow through and don’t stop your swing when your club enters the sand, as this will allow the sand underneath the ball to launch it into the air.  Try focusing on making a high finish with your swing.  David Leadbetter, a leading golf instructor, recommends making a fuller, more rhythmic swing to generate power on longer shots rather than swinging harder with a shorter backswing.  If you are struggling hitting behind the ball, you may find it helpful to move the ball forward in your stance.

It will take practice to be able to judge how far behind the ball your club should enter the sand and how full your swing should be, but as long as you keep these basics and tips in mind you should eventually find success.

The Fairway Bunker Shot

Unlike with a greenside bunker shot, you do not want to hit behind the ball; the fairway bunker shot is more similar to an iron shot from the fairway in that you want to hit the ball first.  While highly skilled golfers can often “pick” the ball out of the bunker while only disturbing a few grains of sand, amateurs should focus on hitting down on the ball and taking a divot after.

If you happen to be far away from the green (200+ yards) and want to use a long iron, you should be careful that you don’t hit the lip on the way out and end up back in the sand for your next shot.  Sometimes you are just better off taking a more lofted club and laying up down the fairway.

Another tip:  avoid driving or “loading” your legs during your swing, or you may sink into the sand and end up hitting the ball fat.  If you tend to have a lot of lower body action in your downswing, you might need to adjust your swing in fairway bunkers by using relatively more of your upper body.  Butch Harmon recommends standing taller at address and keeping your height throughout the entire swing.  He also recommends swinging “easier” and accelerating the club through impact.

What equipment is best for the job?

A solid set of irons is more than sufficient for handling all types of bunker shots.  An ideal sand club should have a combination of bounce, loft and flange width that is appropriate for the type of sand you’re playing out of.  See the product reviews page for information on great iron sets that might fit your budget.

Image:  “Bunkered at Waterford valley” by Mike Hauser | Licensed Under CC BY 2.0 |