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How to Hit a Buried Ball out of a Bunker

Hitting a ball that is buried in sand can be one of the most challenging shots in golf. However, with the right technique, it is possible to hit a buried ball consistently and accurately.
Golf Ball Buried in the Sand - Bunker Shot

The dreaded buried ball bunker shot—a situation that can strike fear into the heart of even the most seasoned golfer. If you can understand why most fear this shot and learn the basics with the right setup and how to swing, you can give yourself a better chance turning a difficult short-game situation into a positive result.  

Understanding the Bunker Shot

A bunker shot is a golf shot played from a sand bunker located near the green or even sometimes along the fairway. Balls that are buried in the sand require a specific club, modifying the clubface and setting up your posture and aim differently. You also will place your ball position in a different spot as well. This type of shot seems very complex but once you learn how to do it, it only gets easier and you will get better. 

Why are bunkers intimidating and hard to get out of?

You usually don’t make contact with the ball

When you are in the bunker around the green, you usually need to get the ball out high to clear the bunker and onto the putting surface. This means creating clubhead speed to splash into the sand so the sand can help push the ball up and out. You need to understand the basics of how the ball comes out of bunkers. 

Learning a different Setup

Many golfers don’t have the skills, knowledge nor the confidence to do this unique shot since you have to trust the swing rather than making contact with the ball.  It all starts with the proper setup since most of the setup is different from the normal swing. 

  1. Use the bounce of the sand wedge properly by opening the face.  
  2. You then have to make sure you aim further left (if your face is aiming more right).  The shaft should be perpendicular and square to your alignment. 
  3. Your posture is different by squatting down a bit and your hands lower. 
  4. Lower body should feel more stable because it is less active in this swing

Swing a different way

Because of this unique setup, you are now set up to swing the club with less effort while increasing the clubhead speed.  

  1. Keep your grip pressure loose so you can release the clubhead to increase speed. 
  2. You will be set up to swing the club on a flatter plane as well when your wrist hinges properly.   
  3. Make sure your shoulders still turn in the swing. Lighter grip pressure will allow them to turn properly on the way back so you can release the clubhead with faster speed through the sand. 
  4. Lower body stays quiet until impact and beyond. 

Different lies in the Bunker

Just the visualization over the ball with sand underneath can be intimidating. Sometimes the ball may be on the sand where it’s perched and other times it looks like it’s slightly depressed in the sand. Being confident no matter what the lies look like is very important to completing the swing needed to get the ball out. 

The sand in the bunker can change texture

The sand in the bunker is usually dry or it can be wet from rain or the irrigation. This changes on how the wedge should be used by using more or less of the bounce. The sand is more dense when wet so you have to make contact closer to the ball while still using the sand to push the ball out and will have to swing a bit more steeper. 

Practice to gain confidence

How many times do you practice out of the bunker compared to your full swings and putting?  You will gain so much confidence after a practice session. This means that you will swing the club smoother and faster making the ball go higher with more spin.  I tell my students to go at a time where the practice area is not busy.  Many golfers are afraid to practice bunker shots if there are other golfers in the area in fear of hitting the ball thin.   

Tips on a Bunker Shot from a Buried Lie

  1. DIg feet into sand. You want to dig in to keep your lower body stable but indirectly feel how deep the sand is.
  2. Ball position. Move the ball a bit closer to center than your usual bunker position. 
  3. Use less Bounce. Close your clubface a bit so the leading edge will lead into the sand to get underneath the ball more than rather bouncing off the sand. 
  4. Swing up. You will hinge your wrists earlier to come in more steep so you can dig the face deeper into the sand to get underneath the ball more. 
  5. Expect more Roll.  Because of the steepness, your ball will come out lower with less spin so plan for the rollout.

FAQs About Bunker Shots

Is there a specific club I should use for bunker shots?

Typically, a sand wedge (56 degree) or lob wedge (60 degree) is used to hit buried balls out of a bunker.

How can I avoid hitting the ball thin or fat from a bunker?

Confidence is key. Golfers who don’t complete their swing in the bunker are never consistent. Too much ball contact usually means that they are decelerating through the shot. 

How much sand should I hit behind the ball?

Most players look at the spot in the sand where they want the bottom of the club to enter. The closer you are to the ball without making contact can mean farther carry and more spin.  The farther back, means less spin and less carry. I’d say ½” to an inch behind the ball. 

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V Tongwarin

V Tongwarin

Visanu Tongwarin or “Coach V” is a Class A PGA Teaching Professional at Legacy Ridge Golf Course and Walnut Creek Golf Preserve in Westminster, Colorado. V's brings his passion for teaching the game of golf to all levels of golfers from running children clinics to training state champions and seasoned professionals.