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Home : Golf Tips Back to Tips

The Dreaded Bunker Shot

If you are having difficulty with the bunker shot then you need to carry on reading. I might bust a few myths!

Jonathan Jacobson - Cape Town PGA Professional.


Good players leading their Club Championships have thrown it all away on the very last hole of the tournament, ending up with (NR) No Return, lost all side-bets, tossed their golf clubs into the water hazard, dived back in to rescue their car keys, and then given up forever. How humiliating and frustrating! ROTFL! I have really witnessed this!

They’ve somehow managed to nurse the ball around the golf course and avoid (YES!) the dreaded bunker shot.They despise the shot so intensely that they miss all the fairways and greens on the correct side for the duration of all the rounds until they get to the very last rounds’ 18th hole.

The 18th that I’m referring to is a difficult hole, even by tour professional standards and is normally played into a strong gusting 40km/h south-easter wind. It is a Par 4, Stroke 2 with trouble looming just about everywhere. There is a lateral water hazard to be avoided on the left for the entirety of the hole’s distance and out-of-bounds behind the green. The hole is a monster, measuring almost 400 meters and there are 3 greenside bunkers surrounding the green. The hole has very narrow entry point and the player will normally be hitting a fairway metal wood for their second into the green, with almost no chance of reaching in 2 shots. Of course, this means the bunkers do come into play.

If the bunker shot is played incorrectly it will be either left in the deep bunker, or there is a possibility of the ball going into one of the other bunkers, so the golfer will face another bunker shot. Even worse, some of the bunkers face directly in to the water hazard alongside the green, and some even aim towards out-of-bounds behind the green. Now you are able to see where this story is headed? If you come out of the bunker a little clean the result could be absolutely disastrous to say the least.

The biggest mistakes golfers make in the bunker

  1. Most golfers assume that all bunker shots are to be played the same way. Access the situation, as bunker shots are not all played with the same style.
  2. Golfers get nervous about the situation. Generally this causes their hands and wrists to tense-up or tighten, so now their hands lack natural flow and wrist movement
  3. They get too scared to turn their shoulders, chest, back and torso. This makes a stab action instead of a swing.
  4. Touch the sand when practicing, it helps. When practicing the shot in the practice area draw parallel lines an inch either side of the ball and touch the sand as often as possible, because the shot is all about the sand not the ball, and no-one is going to give you a two-stroke penalty in the practice area.
  5. When I warm-up for the bunker shot I just gently smack the sand between those lines drawn, out the bunker, without even hitting a ball for 10 minutes. After that I put a few golf balls between the lines and pretend that they are not there at all. Like magic they come out perfectly as I gently smack the sand out the bunker.

How to play a straight forward bunker shot out of a decent lie.
The 10 Commandments of the bunker shot

  1. Do not tighten up your hands ever
  2. Do not try and get too steep with your swing
  3. Do not try and cut excessively across the ball
  4. Do not try and stand with an open stance
  5. Do not look at the ball ever
  6. Do set-up with a wide square stance for stability. Shoulder width will do.
  7. Do position the ball slightly left of centre. Weight is 50:50 on left and right foot.
  8. Do flare / open your front foot to point your big toe almost directly at the hole
  9. Do open the club-face very slight in the setup so it points slight right of the target (for a right hander)
  10. Do swing fairly full, with a big shoulder turn, set the wrists naturally and accelerate gently at about 50% to 70% of your normal swing speed through the sand, so that you finish with the body and club just short of a normal swing.

Picture 1 Good Set-up. Relaxed Hands

Picture 2 Good wrist action and shoulder turn

Picture 3 Smooth acceleration down into sand an inch behind the ball

Picture 4 Relaxed hands. No scooping

Picture 5 Good smooth relaxed follow through

In difficult / tricky situations

  • 1) Hard-pan lie, down-hill lie plugged lie
  • Put more weight on your front foot between 70 -95%
  • The more difficult the more weight should favour your front foot
  • Do get steep in your swing by setting the wrists earlier in the backswing
  • Keep the weight on the front foot through the duration of the entire swing
  • Pretend that you are swinging smoothly down a slope
  • Don’t try and help the ball up. No scooping
  • Rather continue the downward action through the sand without tightening the wrists and still maintaining your weight on the front foot, while still turning the body gently through
  • Allow for a low trajectory and more run.
  • 2) Up against the front lip
  • Assess the situation. Can you realistically clear the lip?
  • Line your knees up the slope , so that your weight favours your back foot slightly.
  • Relax your grip more than normal, because you need to follow through into the wall of the bunker without trying to avoid contact with it at all. Lightening your grip pressure will help you avoid wrist injury.
  • Accelerate gently through the sand up the slope into the wall of the bunker.
  • Do not try and stop your through-swing. Rather let the wall stop it.
  • Allow for a high trajectory and less run.
  • 3) When the ball is above your feet
  • Choke down or hold lower on the grip
  • Open the clubface more in the setup
  • Maintain your head’s height or stay up in the shot
  • Allow for a ball coming out with a slight pull-hook
  • 4) When the ball is below your feet
  • Tip your spine or chest downward toward the ball.
  • Stay down or low in the shot.
  • There is not excessive body movement in the shot. It is more a hands wrists and arms swing.
  • Really stay down or low in the shot.

Hopefully these tips will help. If you are unsure, or you really need a lesson in the bunker my contact details are below. I am always happy to help.

Jonathan Jacobson
PGA professional
Cape Town, South Africa
+27 72 192 6557

[email protected]