A clogged bunker shot is one of the five most challenging shots in golf. Others, including playing from a divot, mudballs, flops and others.
It may be as challenging as the 50-yard bunker shot that Tiger once said is the most difficult shot in golf. The ball hits and buries, unlike when the ball rolls into the trap on a normal shot.
The everyday golfer makes it much more difficult than it needs to be for two reasons: not understanding the technique and the wrong mentality. Today we’ll help you with both problems so you can escape the sand even if your ball is buried.
Plugged Bunker Shot – Dealing with a plugged lie
Bunkers make golfing even more challenging – both greenside traps and fairway bunkers.
Most golfers don’t like bunkers to begin with, but seeing your ball buried in the sand, usually in the face, is rarely a shot anyone looks forward to.
However, many golfers make this shot even more difficult because they do not have the right technique or the right mentality. This leads to a lot of doubt, fear and guessing about what to do in the swing.
Key learning points
- A hidden bunker shot requires a different technique than a normal bunker shot on the green.
- You don’t want to add loft and open up the face, but instead play this shot with a square face to create more dig.
- It’s important to adjust your expectations and play for more throws from a hidden bunker.
- The main goal when hitting a clogged bunker shot is to get it out in one move.
Keep reading to learn how to make these difficult strokes easy.
Step 1: Assess the bunker shot
So, how do you play a hidden bunker shot?
Instead of becoming negative and pessimistic like so many golfers, start by laughing it off. Bad breaks are part of the game and the Golf Gods are just testing your skills.
If you notice that your golf ball is clogged, you should go into the bunker and evaluate your position. It’s also a good idea to see how much space there is between you, the green and the pin.
If you have time, it’s always a good idea to walk to the pin and see if there are any breaks or inclines. This will help you adjust your ideal landing zone for the upcoming shot.
Once you have a better idea of where to land the ball, it’s important to relax and focus on your breathing. Many golfers get so angry when their ball gets clogged that they feel the need to announce it to the entire group. I think it will make the recording easier somehow.
In reality, you have to put all your effort into getting the ball out of the bunker.
Step 2: Choose the right wedge
Once you have an idea of how you want to play the shot, it’s time to get your wedge. But don’t get a pitching or gap wedge because it doesn’t have enough loft.
It is best to play hidden bunker shots with a 56-60 degree wedge. A sand wedge or lob wedge works better because the extra loft and springiness will help you escape the trap in one go.
There is one big difference in plugged lie setup: you don’t want to open the club face. In a normal bunker you want the face to point towards the sky. This adds more loft and bounce, making it easier to break out of the sand.
On stopped bunker shots you want the face to be square at the address position. This will feel very uncomfortable because you are probably used to opening the club, but it is necessary to create this type of explosion shot.
This ensures that you hit the ball with the toe, more so than the heel, which is the last thing you want on this bunker shot. It will also promote a greater digging motion, which is necessary for the ball to pop out of the sand.
Step 3: Choke Up and Add Grip Pressure
As with any bunker shot – even fairway bunkers – you will want to choke the golf club. This makes it shorter, easier to control and gives your hands a bigger role in the swing.
It is also a good idea to increase the grip pressure so that the club does not spin too much. This is very similar to hitting from deep rough, if you don’t want the hose to turn.
You’ll also want to dig your feet into the sand so you can get to the same level as the ball. Place the ball slightly forward in your stance, but not as much as with a normal bunker shot.
Step 4: Hit behind the golf ball
When hitting from a bunker, it is important to remember that you always hit the sand, not the ball.
If you make contact with the golf ball, it will likely sail over the green. The closer you hit the ball, the more spin is created.
However, lies with plugs give you no backspin and instead a lot of forward spin. You want to choose a spot almost two inches behind the ball.
Focus on that spot and not on the golf ball during your swing to ensure the club lands in the right spot in the sand.
Step 5: Go steep and swing aggressively
Once you’re set up for success, it’s time to perform the withdrawal.
It’s a good idea to stick to your pre-shot routine to avoid lingering on the golf ball and making the shot more difficult.
Stick to your goal, take 1-2 practice swings and go.
The most important thing to remember with these shots is that you have to get very steep. Try to imagine that you are chopping wood with an axe, so that you make a straight up and down motion with the club head.
Because you hit so far behind the ball, you also need sufficient speed. Being so steep and taking so much sand, you shouldn’t have any follow through. Your swing should pretty much stop as soon as you hit the sand.
This should result in a golf ball popping out of the sand and rolling towards your target. If you’re short-sided, that’s almost impossible because the ball rolls forward so much more than a typical bunker shot.
Optional: Find the nearest relief area
If the ball is poorly embedded, you can take relief even if it is not a free relief.
As the USGA said in the Rules of Golf: “16.3b/C1 Clarification: The player is not always allowed to take relief from an embedded ball. If a player’s ball is embedded in the general area, but neither the reference point nor any part of the course within one club-length of the reference point is in the general area, the player is not allowed to take free relief under Rule 16.3b. ”
This also applies if the ball is embedded at the base of the lip, bunker face or wall of a bunker.
There are several options if you want to avoid a bunker thanks to a hidden lie. Since there is no fallback area like a penalty area, you must decide which of the following options is best.
- One penalty. Take side relief within two club lengths, no closer to the hole from the reference point of the original ball. This is the same as taking relief from a penalty area and you drop the ball in the bunker. This can lead to a hidden lie depending on how the ball lands and what type of sand is in the trap.
- One penalty. Take relief with a back-on-the-line drop. Similar to an unplayable lie, you can also drop the ball in line with the flag, as far back in the bunker as you want. You may fall within one club length of the general area, in line with the flag.
- Two penalty shots. Take the aid back to the line outside the bunker. You can clear the ball completely from the bunker, but this is a two-shot penalty and you must drop one club length, no closer to the hole.
- Two penalty shots. Finally, you can choose to replay the previous shot with shot and distance. For example, if you hit a tee shot on a par 3 into the edge of a bunker and don’t like the other three options, you can tee again and hit your third shot. Fall within one club length of the previous spot.
This handy video from the USGA on Instagram walks you through the embedded ball relief of the trap.
Frequently asked questions about bunker shots
Do you have more questions about playing from bunkers? Then quickly read through the most frequently asked questions and answers.
Do you get relief from a plugged ball in a bunker?
No, if your ball hits the grass during play – fairway or rough – you will get relief thanks to the built-in ball rule. But bunkers are considered a hazard and therefore you cannot ground the club. This means that you will get no relief if the ball becomes clogged and you will have to play it as it lies.
Why do I have trouble with bunker shots?
Normal bunker shots are considerably easier than plugged lies.
If you have trouble hitting the green, make sure you always open your face, maintain a wide stance, minimize your lower body movements and swing with sufficient speed. Most golfers do not swing with enough speed, which leads to deceleration and leaving the ball in the bunker.
Why am I doing bunker shots?
When you hit bunker shots, it’s because there’s too much weight on your back foot at impact. This ensures that they hit the ball, instead of hitting 1 to 2 inches behind the ball. Be sure to keep lower body movements to a minimum, keep more weight on your front foot and move your wrists quickly.
How do I play a fried egg shot while golfing?
A fried egg is another challenging shot that takes place in the bunker and requires a different swing and setup. Click here to read our full guide now.
A plugged in lie bunker shot is not fun, but it is part of the game. The biggest tip I have is to concentrate all your efforts on the photo and not complain about the situation. Try not to argue with the reality of the situation. A plugged-in lie bunker shot is hard enough… don’t try to make it even harder.
Additionally, be sure to practice this shot in the short game area so that you are familiar with the technique required on the golf course. Once you’ve mastered the basic technique, you’ll feel much more confident on the trail.
Stopped lie bunker shots are not easy and no free relief is provided. It’s up to you to learn how to play this shot, so if you get this lie in the bunker it won’t ruin your round.
Do you hate these shots or fried eggs more?
Let me know in the comments below. Also make sure you learn how to then hit a long bunker shot.