How to Hit a Bunker Shot

The bane of many golfers’ existence is the greenside bunker shot. It’s an intimidating shot, but with a little practice and a few tips it gets significantly easier. Think of this article as Bunker Play 101. You’ll learn how set up to a bunker shot, how to hit a bunker shot, and we’ll give you some confidence that will help you get out of the sand next time you’re on the course.

Setting Up a Bunker Shot

How to hit a sand wedge? Many mistakes made with golf bunker shots are really mistakes in the setup. While each greenside bunker shot is different, there are a few steps in the setup that remain the same no matter the distance of the shot.

  • Where do you point your feet? Golfers are used to setting up square to the ball when they step into a shot. With a sand shot, you’re going to open up your stance — aiming your stance line left of your target for righthanders, and right of your target for lefthanders. As you look down at your feet, your lead foot should be approximately even with the middle of your trail foot. This opens up your body to allow for a proper outside-to-in swing path. Make sure you really dig your feet into the sand to create some stability for your swing as you don’t want to move laterally or sway.
  • Where is the ball in your stance? You’re going to want the ball to be very far forward in your stance, about even with your front foot. This allows you to slide the club under the ball so that it pops up and out versus hitting down too steeply and digging the club into the sand
  • What do you do with the clubface?  Unlike a normal shot from the fairway, you want the clubface open to your stance to allow yourself to use the bottom, or bounce, of the club. To do this, turn the toe of the club away from the ball. This “opens” the clubface and lets the bottom of the club enter the sand first.  If the club face is square to your stance line the club will often dig into the sand resulting in a shot that does not travel far enough or fly high enough to exit the bunker.
  • What about the angle of my shoulders?  When you hit a shot from the turf your spine is typically tilted back and your lead shoulder is higher than your trail shoulder.  For a bunker shot you want to keep your shoulders closer to level which helps you execute the proper swing for a sand shot.
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Tips for Hitting Out of a Sand Trap

Once you have the correct setup, it’s time to make a swing at the ball. Let's discuss how to hit out of the sand and give you some bunker shot tips.

  • Where should I feel my weight in my stance? Hitting out of the bunker is tricky, and part of what makes it difficult is that you often want to help the ball up. Many golfers will lean back and try to get behind the ball to do so. In reality, you want to feel about 60% of your weight on your front foot. As discussed earlier, keeping your shoulders closer to level helps you get more of your weight forward. This allows you to hit behind the ball at a steep angle, splashing it up and out of the bunker. Remember to keep your face open throughout the shot!
  • How should I grip the club with my hands? This is a question that gets asked a lot as many golfers think they need to alter their hands when hitting golf sand shots, but your grip will be about the same as it would be on a normal shot. It will just feel different because the ball is forward in your stance and the clubface is laid open. Your hands will be more on the side of the grip than normal because of the open clubface, but the club should feel the same in your fingers as it normally does.
  • Do I want to hit the sand or the ball? Unless you’re trying to hit the ball a longer distance, you want to hit the sand, and only the sand. This applies for every greenside bunker shot. Aim to hit 1-2 inches behind the ball and picture taking a divot the size of a dollar bill. However, don’t feel like you’re digging down into the sand. Drive the club forward under the ball, taking a modest amount of sand with you.
  • Do I swing normally? The bunker shot requires a slightly steeper swing than on a normal shot. Try to make about 75% of your normal backswing. Feel like you’re picking the club up as you turn back. Hit just behind the ball, as we talked about above, and be sure to accelerate through impact! Don’t be afraid to swing hard when hitting out of a sand trap. You need to generate speed to get the ball up and out to land properly on the green, so give the sand a good thump.

How to Practice Bunker Shots

Practice hitting bunker shots of different lengths to get a feel for how far to hit behind the ball and how much sand to take with your shot.  Set your stance open to your target, open the clubface and drive the bottom of the club, not the leading edge, into the sand behind the ball. Be sure to swing across your body with an outside-to-inside path with some speed. Keep the clubface open through impact and the ball will pop up out of the sand and land softly on the green!

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Incorporating the Swing Align Short Game tool is a great way to practice out of the bunker. If you’re set up correctly, the alignment rod will point left of the target for righthanders. You can also use the Swing Junction ground alignment rod with the puck indicator slid toward the front of the rod to help you get the ball positioned properly off your front foot. Be sure to turn your shoulders to generate enough speed and power to get the ball out of the bunker. The connection belt will help your swing stay connected and keep your arms from running away from your body at the top of your sand swing. Staying connected during your sand swing, and especially at impact, is important because just using your arms will result in a weak shot instead of powering the club down and under the ball.

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Hitting Out of a Bunker is Easy with Swing Align!

The easiest way to get out of sand traps is to practice, practice, practice. It takes time to learn how to hit out of the sand, how to gain the confidence you need to swing aggressively through the sand to get your ball out and on the green. The Swing Align device is here to help you along the way! Using the Swing Align will help you groove a repeatable short game swing and save you shots along the way. Shop the full collection of Swing Align products for help with every area of your golf game!

The Swing Align Golf Instruction Blog is a great resource for a variety of golf swing tips and golf drills to help you improve your game. You’ll find lessons on how to hit a draw, how to eliminate a golf slice, golf chipping tips and more! Any golfer will find these golf swing lessons useful, even if you don’t own a Swing Align golf training aid. But if you do own a Swing Align, you’ll learn how to use it to improve key fundamentals including alignment, posture, rotation, swing plane and connection. The red button at the top of the page will take you to the Swing Align YouTube channel where you’ll find even more golf swing instruction.