Golfs endless challenges are what makes it such a great sport. No matter how hard you try, you cant master every aspect of golf.
Some shots, no matter how much practice you do, can be intimidating. Some of the most common “scary” shots in golf include the first tee shot, hitting over water, and a long bunker shot.
You can overcome the First Tee jitters and hitting over water pretty easily (since it’s mostly mental) long bunker shots are different. You need to have the right mentality and technique to execute the shot.
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 find out the best technique and other tips to master this difficult shot 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.”
Your mindset is another important thing to consider before you hit these shots. Many golfers go into bunkers with fear and dread making it difficult to hit a shot.
Instead, you should walk into the bunker with Phil Mickelsons confidence (one of the greatest bunker players ever). The “fake it until you make it” approach can help but you’ll still need to practice this shot too. A practice bunker can make a big difference in your confidence.
Let’s break down how to play different length bunker shots to help alleviate some of those fears. Check out our website for more information. Guide to greenside bunkers.
15-30 Yards (Longer Greenside Bunker Shots).
The 30-yard shot is difficult, but 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.
You can play a longer bunker shot by switching your lob wedge to a sand-wedge. Or, a sand wedge for a gap wedge if it’s the most lofted club in your bag. The ball will travel further than normal, but it will still reach the lip fairly quickly if you use less loft.
It is crucial to make sure that the ball leaves 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. If the ball is sitting straight and you dont have lip issues, you can take a wedge that has less loft and play it like a regular greenside bunker shot.
Take care of these:
- Open the club face approximately half as often as normal
- You will need to build a sturdy base in the bunker to support your lower body. Keep your legs and feet firmly planted in the sand by digging your feet into it.
- You must accelerate through the ball. The more sand you have, the faster you can 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.
You might also notice some left to right spin, if you make a cut across it. To account for the lack backspin, plan accordingly where the ball should land.
Bunker Shot 30-50 Yards
While I’m confident giving advice from 15-30 yard bunker shots, the 30-50 yard shot truly is the hardest in golf. Long greenside bunker shots require more precision than shorter 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 Widge
The first step in choosing the right club is deciding what type of sand to use. This can be based on distance, good vs. poor lie, type, lip and pin location. Tiger uses these factors to determine his club selection, which can range from a sand wedge up to an eight-iron. This is not the right time to make lofty claims!
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. If you dont have any lip issues and the pin is at the back of your green, a short iron or PW might be the best choice.
Before you grab a club from the bag, be sure to thoroughly analyze the lie.
Step 2: Modify the Setup
Once you have chosen the right club, adjust your setup to accommodate 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, its easier to cut across your golf ball and add too little topspin.
You also want your:
- Feet dug into the sand
- You should have a good knee flex.
- Take about one inch.
- 60% of your body weight should be on your lead leg.
- Ball forward in the stance – think middle-front.
Step 3: Square Clubface
Next, keep your clubface square rather than opening it 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.”
Because the shot is longer than normal, you will need to use less sand. If you hit too far behind the golf ball, it’ll likely end up way short of the green. Tiger recommends hitting the sand just one inch behind the ball and taking 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 focus on the ball and end-up hitting it too close to the hole and sending it over the green. Focusing on the area behind your ball while you swing will remind you to hit the sand and not the ball.
Step 4: Swing With Controlled Fury
The final step in swinging with speed is the last.
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.
Amateur golfers tend to get anxious and do one or the other of two things.
- Too slow to move.
- You can also make a backswing and slow down 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!
Bunker Play 60-75 Yards
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 with a lob, or sand wedge.
I prefer to use a SW/LW and choke up about an indentation 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.
You must pick a spot about an inch behind the ball. Otherwise, you will think it over to the green. Remember, you don’t need much lower body movement so focus on an “arms” swing with controlled tempo on this longer shot.
Click here for our full guide to mastering the fairway bunkers.
FAQs about Long Bunker Shots
Are you curious about different types of sand shots and how they are hit? Continue reading to find out more about these tricky shots and how you can save your strokes in the sand.
What do you see when you hit a bunker shot.
You should focus on a spot in sand that is at least one to two inches behind your golf ball.
For longer shots, you’ll need to take less sand and hit about an inch behind it. For shorter shots, aim to place the sand 1.5-2inches behind the ball.
Once you know where you need the ball to go, keep your eyes on that spot throughout your swing. Keep in mind that you are hitting the sand not the ball.
Why do I thin my bunker shots
The main reason is that you hit too close to the ball. You will thin the green if you hit the ball.5 inches behind it or hit the ball before the sand.
Instead, find a spot near the ball and swing fast. 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 am I so fat from my bunker shots?
If you’re hitting shots fat, you’re hitting too far behind the golf ball. You could have a problem with your ball position, but another reason is that you dont have enough swing speed.
Sand is very heavy and requires speed to get the ball out the bunker. Too many golfers swing slowly or slow down, which can lead to a poor shot that stays on the beach. Swing with speed and don’t hit too far behind it to get the ball out more often than not.
Final Thoughts about Greenside Sand Shots
Long bunker shots can be avoided by implementing better course management. 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.
Par 5s is a great example. 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.
These shots can happen no matter how skilled you are at managing your game. If you find yourself in these difficult shots, it is important to change your mindset before you go into the bunker. Next, adjust your club to have less loft and adjust your setup based upon the distance. Finally, commit to the shot.