How to Improve Your Bunker Play

Mark Oswald
General Manager
The Highlands at Dove Mountain in Marana, AZ.
Marana, AZ

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Use these fundamentals to improve your bunker play:

Grip: Use your regular full swing grip. Light grip pressure. Choke down on the grip for better distance control and feel.

Open your stance by pulling your front foot back off of the target line.  Widen your stance, your feet should be wider apart than your shoulders, this makes you more stable during the swing. Work your feet into the sand to further prevent slipping on top of the sand during the swing. Do not touch the sand with your club, you are in a hazard and there is a two stroke penalty under rule 13.4 if you ground your club.

Ball Position: Ball should be placed forward in your stance, up off of the front foot. Your contact point with the sand will be up off of your front heel. The ball will be placed forward of your front heel depending on how much sand will be struck prior to the ball. The amount of sand that you contact prior to the ball will determine the distance the ball will fly. For a shorter shot, hit more sand before the ball by placing the ball more forward of your heel, about 2 – 3 inches ahead of your heel. For a longer shot, play the ball closer to the heel, which will result in hitting less sand before the ball and the ball traveling further from the impact. Use the amount of sand taken prior to impact with the ball to control distance, short shot take more sand, long shot take less.

Club Selection: This shot should be done with the Sand Wedge or Lob Wedge.  The more loft you have on the club the easier it will be to get the ball up into the air and out of that bunker. I strongly recommend a club of at least 56 degrees of loft or more. Open the clubface up for additional loft and adjust your aim until the clubface is again pointing at your target. If you normally use your sand wedge try your lob wedge, the more loft you have the easier it may be to get up and out of the bunker.

Stroke: Our first priority is to loft the ball into the air and out of the bunker. This is a steep, wristy shot. You will break your wrists right away as you take the club back on the backswing. This will also allow you to pick the club up quickly and create a steeper down swing angle. This swing resembles more of a “V”, up and down quickly, unlike the normal swing resembling more of a circle. Hit behind the ball, forcing the amount of sand you want to take for your desired distance, and the ball up and out of the bunker. The more sand that you hit prior to contacting the ball, the shorter the ball will travel. Keep accelerating and follow through! This is where so many golfers fall short of getting out. Take a full swing, hit the sand and follow through to a full finish. This shot is a “sand explosion”. 

Practice Drill: Find a practice bunker and hit a lot of bunker shots. You can only learn how to hit this shot using the correct fundamentals and a lot of practice. Hit shots to a close pin and pin further away to work on how much sand to hit. Put a line extending out from your front heel and work on hitting the line without a ball.  When you become consistent at hitting the line, you will now be able to control the distance of the shot by placing the ball more forward of this line for the close pin or placing the ball closer to the line for the further away pin.

Summary: The bunker shot requires you to hit the sand before contacting the ball and accelerating to a full finish. Do not touch the sand with the club before making impact.

For more help with your golf game, contact Mark Oswald at