Bunker Shots

This little-used technique makes the hardest shot in golf a breeze

kelnan mcdonagh watches GOLF editor Zephyr Melton as he hits a long bunker shot

In today's edition of Play Smart, instructor Kelan McDonagh shows us a technique to make long bunker shots a breeze.


Welcome to Play Smart, a regular GOLF.com game-improvement column that will help you play smarter, better golf.

When you think of the most difficult shots in golf, a few candidates come to mind. A forced carry to a green with a long iron. A flop shot with water long. The next chip after a shank. All of these make your palms sweaty just thinking about them.

In my opinion, however, there’s a shot that trumps them all in terms of difficulty — and that’s the 40-yard bunker shot. It’s one that recreational players rarely practice, and that shows when they’re faced with the shot on the course. Almost every time, they’ll blade it over the green, or chunk it short. Just getting the ball on the green is counted as a win, let alone getting the ball close.

The 40-yard bunker shot doesn’t have to be difficult, though. All you have to do is make this one simple adjustment, courtesy of instructor Kelan McDonagh.

How to hit a long bunker shot

Much of the reason the long bunker shot is hard is because weekend warriors approach it entirely incorrectly — they try to hit the shot with the same club as they would on a typical greenside bunker shot. But this makes the margin for error extremely slim and makes hitting it close to the pin nearly impossible.

“Nine times out of 10 golfers are going to pull their sand wedge, their normal club that they think they have to use in the bunker,” McDonagh says. “That tends to lead to skulls, chunks, duffs, because there’s a lot of effort trying to get that ball towards the flag.”

Instead of using that high-lofted wedge, McDonagh says to instead use a 9-iron. Then, all you need to do is use your typical bunker technique. Open your stance and the clubface, play the ball forward with your weight forward, allow the clubhead to pass the hands through impact, and thump the sand behind the ball.

“Then we’re going to apply the same commitment to the shot,” McDonagh says. “But with the lower loft, the ball is going to come out a little bit lower and release.”

This will reduce spin, but also drastically decreases the margin for error. A perfect recipe for one of the most difficult shots in golf.

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