How to Hit a Bunker Shot – Part 1

Tiger Bunker

Close the Gap

There are few areas of the game that separate pros from amateurs as much as the sand.  Your average tour pro looks at a standard bunker shot as a relatively easy up and down, if not an opportunity to hole out.  The recreational golfer is simply praying to get the ball out in one swing without sending it sailing over the green.

In this series of lessons, I’m going to help you approach bunker shots more like a pro.  I’m going to start by giving you a clear picture of what to do in the sand.  Then I’m going to help you read your lie.  Finally, I’ll discuss your wedges, your set up, and your swing and how to modify them so that you can hit perfect bunker shots.

This Lesson Is For You If:

You struggle with getting the ball out of the sand

You are unclear on what to do from the bunker

You want to get up and down more often

Bunker Shot - Stock

Step 1: Have the Right Picture

Many people struggle with bunker shots because they don’t have the right concept of what they need to do.    Having the right picture can help fix that problem.  The image above shows what you should be thinking about on a standard sand shot.  The club needs to enter the sand somewhere behind the ball and move under the ball.  You can imagine taking a scoop of sand out from under the ball and tossing that sand onto the green, along with the ball.

Bunker Shot_0027

Bunker Fundamentals

I’ll deal with the swing in more detail in Part 3, but I want to lay out the two most important keys right here.

#1 – Get your weight forward

#2 – Swing hard

The reason that these two keys are so important is that they eliminate the two worst outcomes: blading the ball over the green and leaving it in the bunker.  If your club enters the sand behind the ball with speed and your weight is forward, you are almost guaranteed a good result.

Bunker Shot_0003

The Drill: Hit The Line

Now that you have the right picture and know the fundamentals, it’s time to get to work.

Head to a practice bunker and drop a few balls in a row.  Behind the balls, draw a line with the sole of your wedge.  Take a swing at the first ball trying to enter the sand at the line.  After the shot, ask yourself three questions:

1) Did I hit the line or was I in front of or behind it?

2) Did I have my weight forward and accelerate the club into the sand?

2) What was the result?

If you hit the line and got a good result, do it again.  If you decelerated, fell backward, or missed the line, try again.  If you hit the line and got a bad result, you may need to move your line.


While there’s a lot more to come in the next two weeks, this lesson should give you the ability to reliably escape the sand.  Get a good week of practice on these fundamentals, and then check in next week so that your sand game can travel anywhere.

Matt Saternus
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  1. Jason Warlond

    Hi Matt, Can you please also discuss concepts of loft, bounce and different sands types (hard/soft). (ie. what are generally the best combinations for different scenarios?)

  2. Matt, my bunker play is better than average when it comes to dry fluffy sand. My sand play improved drastically after following Greg Norman’s technique of having an open stance, aiming the club face towards the target and swinging and accelerating behind the ball and through the sand.

    My issue lies when the sand is very hard and wet. I.e when there is not more than 1/2 an inch of sand depth. I often skull the ball and either hit the lip or fly the green. Could you please expand on proper technique for this type of scenario and bunker lie.


    • Matt Saternus


      I have information about different lies and more in the coming lessons.



    • While not the best bunker player, I feel pretty competent when I find myself in there. I struggled with similar problems, and while I don’t know what Matt’s advice will be in coming articles, I’d wager it might be something to the effect of “don’t lay the face so flat.” I kept trying to play harder sand like I was in the soft stuff and ended up skulling shots left and right. Be committed and take a little loft out of the equation. It’s worked for me…but Matt may have better suggestions.

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