How to Play Sidehill Bunker Shots

Many recreational golfers struggle with shots out of the sand, so when you add a sidehill lie on top of the basic bunker shot that just complicates things more. But playing sidehill bunker shots doesn't have to be hard!

First, what is a sidehill bunker shot? A "sidehill lie" happens when your golf ball comes to rest on a slope so that when you take your address position, your ball is either sitting above the level of your feet, or below the level of your feet. You are, literally, setting up on the side of a hill (or side of a minor slope, more likely). So a sidehill bunker shot is required when, simply, your ball is in a bunker and you have a sidehill lie there.

Playing a Bunker Shot When the Ball Is Above Your Feet

Your ball has found a bunker. Unfortunately, it's not sitting in the bottom of the bunker in a flat spot; instead, your ball came to rest on a sloping side of the bunker. So now you're facing a sidehill lie with the ball above your feet.

Do you just treat it like a normal bunker shot, or are there adjustments you need to make? Adjustments!

The dangers on a sidehill bunker shot in which the ball is above your feet are two-fold. The biggest danger is hitting a really fat shot. On a sidehill bunker shot with the ball above your feet, the tendency is for your wedge to really dig, causing you to take a lot more sand. And second, the golf ball tends to come out left (for a right-hander) in this situation.

How to address those issues? Here are the adjustments to make:

  1. First, we'll address No. 2 above: A sidehill bunker lie with the ball above your feet tends to make the ball come out left, so set up aligned a little more to the right.
  2. And second, to counteract the potential for your wedge to dig too deep into the sand, choke down to near the bottom of your club's grip, and stand up taller at address. Exactly how much taller depends on how much the ball is above your feet. The more the ball is above your feet, the taller your address position should be: Knees flexed less, less bend at the hips. A taller setup position for this shot will help prevent digging and hitting a fat shot.
Now, commit to the shot, make your swing, and be sure not to decelerate — keep the club moving crisply forward through the shot.

Playing a Bunker Shot When the Ball Is Below Your Feet

Your golf ball rolls into a bunker and stops on a downslope. To play it, you'll have to stand above the ball on that same slope. You have a sidehill lie in a bunker with the ball below your feet. Now what?

The biggest danger with this shot is catching the ball thin. That could lead to skulling the ball over the green, or to just driving into the face of the bunker. That's because with the ball below your feet, your are farther from the ball than normal, which makes it harder to get the clubhead down to the ball.

So how do you adjust your normal bunker technique to account for that?

Get lower! That's the gist of it. Take a slightly wider stance than normal and flex those knees. Get more bend in your knees than normal, and bend forward more from the hips in order to get down over the ball. (How much more flex is necessary depends on how far below your feet the ball is.) So bend in order to get down to the ball, and then stay down through the shot. If you come up out of your more-bended setup position during the swing, you'll wind up thinning it. You can also choke up on the club — move your hands up the club toward the butt-end of the grip.

Also, remember to be careful taking your stance in a bunker when the ball is below your feet. You don't want to send any sand cascading down toward your golf ball.

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