Bunkers: The Mystery Unveiled




I will never forget how I learned to hit bunker shots. It was a hot summer day, and there I was 16 years old, toiling away in our club’s practice bunker. Thinning some shots, fatting some shots, it was rare to even actually get one ON the green. To this point I had basically figured out golf on my own, with some pointers from my mother and father here and there, and with some athletic ability and some luck, I had achieved a fairly low handicap. But for the life of me, I could not get it out of the bunker with any consistency. After a while the Head Professional hurried out of the pro shop and headed in my direction. This was likely out of concern for member safety; my last shot had nearly hit the pro shop 40 yards beyond the green.


He stood there quietly and watched me chunk my way through a couple more shots.  He said simply, “Matt, nobody has ever told you how to do that, have they?” Thankfully, I wasn’t in “stubborn 16 year old mode,” but rather in “please help me before I start crying mode” and responded, “No! Nobody ever has. Please, please help me.” Very quickly he ticked off the setup keys essential to hitting a good bunker shot, a lesson for which I will always be grateful:


  1. Wider stance with more knee flex
  2. Stance slightly open to the target
  3. Ball in the front of your stance
  4. Weight on your front leg
  5. Open the face.
  6. Swing along your foot line, striking 3-5 inches behind the ball.


As soon as he listed these steps, I realized that I had (as most have) been going about it completely backwards. To that point I had been approaching bunkers this way:


  1. Normal stance, no extra knee flex
  2. Stance square to the target
  3. Ball in the middle (or sometimes even back) of the stance
  4. Weight neutral (and sometimes even a little back)
  5. Face square at setup
  6. Swing along the foot line, but trying to either pick the ball or dig so much sand that it would HAVE to come out


It was quickly apparent where I had gone wrong. I made the correct adjustments and hit the first one not only on the green, but to a couple feet of my intended target. The frustration at that exact moment was nearly uncontrollable. I was obviously delighted at the shot but also SO upset that nobody had bothered to tell me that for YEARS. If bunker play was so simple, why in the world would none of the many who saw me flailing about in practice bunkers take the time to help me as our Pro did that day?


Over the years I have come to the conclusion that very few actually even know the correct setup for a standard bunker shot. It is the least intuitive setup of any golf shot, so in order to learn it correctly, some instruction is required. However, once learned, golfers can be confident that not only can they get out of a bunker (The #1 goal for all of us), but that they have a good chance of getting one close now and then. If you can follow these simple setup keys and be committed to a good solid swing down and through the sand, you will find fear of bunkers to be a thing of the past! Check out the attached video for some visual representation of proper setup and execution, and start hitting your best bunker shots!

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