What makes golf great is the endless challenge of this crazy sport. You can never really master every aspect of this game, no matter how hard you try.
There are some shots that no matter how much you practice, are always intimidating. Some of the most common “scary” shots in golf include the first tee shot, hitting over water, and a long bunker shot.
While you can overcome the first tee jitters and hitting over water pretty easily (since it’s mostly mental) long bunker shots are different. Not only do you have to have the right mentality to execute the shot, you need the right technique too.
Long bunker shots are not like normal bunker shots but they’re not like fairway bunkers either. It’s easy to get confused on if you should take a normal swing, use the same club, add more loft, and figure out how much sand to take.
To make matters worse, it’s a shot that almost no golf course or practice facility allows you to practice. Needless to say, it’s easy to see why the everyday golfer fears this type of shot.
Keep reading to learn the right technique and other tricks to mastering one of the hardest shots in golf.
How to Hit a Long Bunker Shot
If you slightly dread (or fear) when you have a long greenside bunker shot, you’re in the majority of the golf population. Even Tiger Woods, one of the most creative and gifted players to ever touch a golf club, doesn’t “love” these shots.
Here’s what Tiger said about these shots in his book, How I Play Golf, “No doubt about it, the toughest shot to play well consistently is the long explosion. By long, I mean a shot of about 30 yards — too long to play with your greenside bunker technique, too short to play like you would with a full shot from a fairway bunker.”
He elaborates in the book saying to play these shots you need to modify your setup, use different clubs, and swing with “controlled fury.”
The other thing to consider is your mindset before hitting these shots. So many golfers walk into bunkers with fear and dread, making a hard shot even harder.
Instead, walk into the bunker with the confidence of Phil Mickelson (one of the best bunker players ever). The “fake it until you make it” approach can help but you’ll still need to practice this shot too. Even 15-30 minutes a month in a practice bunker can do wonders to your confidence.
Let’s break down how to play different length bunker shots to help alleviate some of those fears. Plus, make sure to check out our guide to greenside bunkers here.
15-30 Yards (Longer Greenside Bunker Shots)
While the 30-yard shot is tough, the 15-30 yard bunker shot is slightly easier. Don’t get me wrong, this shot isn’t as easy as a typical short greenside bunker shot but you only have to make a few modifications.
The first way to play a slightly longer bunker shot is by swapping your lob wedge for a sand wedge. Or, a sand wedge for a gap wedge if it’s the most lofted club in your bag. By using less loft, the ball will go further than normal but still get over a lip pretty quickly.
The biggest thing to consider is making sure you get the ball out of the bunker.
If the ball is close to the lip, sometimes taking an LW might be the best option even if it can’t get to the green. But if you have no lip issues and the ball sitting nicely, take a wedge with less loft and play it like a normal greenside bunker shot.
Make sure to:
- Open the club face about half as much as normal.
- Build a wide, sturdy base in the bunker so you can keep your lower body stable. Dig your feet into the sand to keep your legs in the sand.
- Make sure to accelerate through the ball. The thicker the sand, the more speed you need to get the club through it.
- Don’t change your swing length for this type of shot due to the different club selection.
By using less loft, you’re more likely to hit a “chunk and run” type shot. This means the ball won’t spin quite as much as normal and expect it to hit and roll out.
It might also have some left to right spin if you cut across it. Plan accordingly where you want the ball to land to account for the lack of backspin too.
30-50 Yard Bunker Shot
While I’m confident giving advice from 15-30 yard bunker shots, the 30-50 yard shot truly is the hardest in golf. The long greenside bunker shots require much more precision than short bunker shots.
So instead of giving you tips, let’s listen to Tiger on how to play this shot to hit the ball cleanly from this awkward distance.
Step 1: Use the Right Wedge
The first step is deciding which club to use based on your distance, good vs. bad lie, type of sand, the lip, and pin location. Tiger varies his club selection from sand wedge all the way to an 8-iron based on the following factors. This is not the time for a lofted wedge!
For example, if you have a steep lip, you shouldn’t use an 8 or 9 iron as you risk leaving it in the bunker. But if you have no lip issues and the pin is all the way in the back of the green, a PW or short iron might be the best choice.
Make sure to analyze the lie on these difficult shots thoroughly before pulling out a club from your arsenal.
Step 2: Modify Your Setup
Once you have the right club, the next step is to adjust your setup to account for the longer distance. As Tiger said, “Because this shot requires as much body action as a full-swing shot from the fairway, I set up with my feet and shoulders open very slightly to the target line.”
Remember, this setup is slightly open (left of the target for right-handed golfers) but don’t over do it. The more you aim left, the easier it is to cut across the golf ball and add too much topspin.
You also want your:
- Feet dug in the sand.
- Have a good knee flex.
- Choke up about one inch.
- Have 60% of your weight on your lead leg.
- Ball forward in the stance – think middle-front.
Step 3: Square Clubface
Next, you need to keep the clubface square instead of opening it up like a normal bunker shot. As Tiger said, “Opening the clubface increases loft, and I don’t want to hit the ball so high that it can’t travel far enough forward to reach the green. So set the clubface square to the target line.”
Since the shot is longer than normal you also need to take less sand too. If you hit too far behind the golf ball, it’ll likely end up way short of the green. Tiger suggests entering the sand one inch behind the ball with a big swing.
I’ve found that picking a spot and focusing on that spot throughout the swing is the biggest secret to better bunkers.
Too many golfers look at the ball and end up hitting too close to it and sailing it over the green. By focusing on the spot behind your ball during your swing you are reminding yourself to hit the sand, not the ball.
Step 4: Swing With Controlled Fury
The final step is to swing with speed.
Don’t forget, sand is heavy and requires more speed than a normal greenside chip shot. You have to swing even harder since it’s 2-5X longer than a normal greenside bunker shot too. If it’s soft sand you need to swing even harder on these long shots.
This is where most amateur golfers get worried and do one of two things:
- Swing too slow.
- Or, make a good backswing and decelerate on the downswing.
You need speed in the sand, whether it’s a shorter bunker shot or on longer bunker shots. If you have a clear target in the sand, commit to it and swing with commitment. Don’t let doubt creep in now!
60-75 Yard Bunker Play
While you can try to play this shot with the tips from the previous section using a short iron or pitching wedge, there’s another option too. You can play 60-75 yard bunker shots like a fairway bunker shot with a lob or sand wedge.
I like to use a SW or LW and choke up about an inch on the grip. Then, try to play a ¾ punch shot sort of like hitting into the wind. My goal is to take a ¾ swing and not follow through past my ribs on the downswing.
The key is to still pick a spot behind the ball (about an inch) or else you will think it over the green. Remember, you don’t need much lower body movement so focus on an “arms” swing with controlled tempo on this longer shot.
FAQs About Long Bunker Shots
Do you have more questions about hitting different types of sand shots? If so, keep reading to learn more about these tricky shots so you can save strokes from the sand.
Where do you look when hitting a bunker shot?
Focus on a spot in the sand that is one to two inches behind the golf ball.
For longer shots, you’ll need to take less sand and hit about an inch behind it. For shorter shots, you want to enter the sand 1.5-2 inches behind the ball.
Once you identify where you need to enter the sand, focus on that point throughout your swing. Remember, you hit the sand, not the ball so keep your eyes focused on the spot.
Why do I thin bunker shots?
The main reason is from hitting too close to the golf ball. If you only hit .5 inches behind the ball or actually hit the ball before the sand, you will thin it over the green.
Instead, pick a spot behind the ball and swing with speed. Also, make sure the majority of your weight is on your lead leg so you don’t hit up on the ball with the club head.
Why do I hit my bunker shots fat?
Sand is heavy and requires plenty of speed to get the ball out of the bunker. Too many golfers swing too slowly or decelerate and hit a fat shot that stays in the beach. Swing with speed and don’t hit too far behind it to get the ball out more often than not.
Final Thoughts on Greenside Sand Shots
The best strategy for long bunker shots is to avoid them entirely by having better course management for approach shots. Do everything you can to make sure you don’t get yourself into these awkward distances by thinking ahead off the tee and with your approach shots.
A good example of this is when playing par 5s. If you clearly can’t get to the green in two shots (or need an absolute perfect second shot to do so) or risk a 30-60 yard bunker shot, lay up.
It’s the smarter play as you can depend on your wedge game to get a good look at birdie. Even if you don’t convert the birdie, you don’t risk a double bogey or worse like you might if you went for the green in two shots.
But no matter how good you are at managing your game, these shots can happen occasionally. When you do find yourself with these tricky shots, remember to adjust your mindset heading into the bunker. Then, change your club so you have less loft, adjust your setup based on the distance, and commit to the shot.