How’d He Hit That: Rory’s Long Bunker Shot

Aaron Ungvarsky

Aaron Ungvarsky

PGA of America Professional, SwingU Instructor

Widely recognized as the hardest shot in golf, the long bunker shot demands precision from pros and weekend warriors alike. Usually demanding a carry of over 20 yards and requiring the touch of playing a less than full iron shot, you can learn from Rory McIlroy’s technique.

 

During Friday’s round at The Traveler’s Championship, Rory played the seemingly vulnerable 15th hole with a tee shot that could let him be aggressive into the back hole location. However, his tee shot found the bunker 33 yards from the hole.

Rory walked off the green with a birdie when many would have scored much higher — the Tour average is about 30% par save from this distance.

 

So how did he do it?!

  • The long bunker shot leaves players two options. The first is to pick the ball cleanly off the lie with a lower ball flight; the second is to tweak the setup and add some power to your greenside bunker technique. 
  • The lie will most likely dictate which shot is appropriate. In Rory’s case, the ball was close to a high lip, so picking the ball and sending it on a low trajectory was not a good option. Furthermore, with the back hole location, he needed a shot that came down soft and stopped quickly. The long bunker blast was the perfect shot; maximizing launch and carry while minimizing chances of flying the target or spinning the ball back off the green.
  • The long bunker blast requires squaring the clubface at address and playing the ball back of center.
  • Although you will swing at 90% power, expect only 40% of your normal distance. For most players that hit a sand wedge 90-100 yards, this is a perfect club for the shot. We see Rory take the club above shoulder height and accelerate aggressively through the ball. He entered the sand a couple inches behind the ball for the full blast effect. Hitting closer to the ball will result in a longer shot with more spin. Rory contacted the sand slightly closer with a steeper angle of attack because he needed to make sure the ball had some spin. Your goal is simply to get the ball on the putting surface, so start by nailing the basics before working on spinning the long bunker shot.
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  • Taking a lot of sand will produce a shorter follow through than backswing, but make sure your goal is to fully transfer your energy to the lead side and finish facing the target.
  • DO NOT dig your feet into the bunker! Normally this works well to move the low point of the swing into the sand under the ball. However, with this shot digging in will most likely cause us to take too much sand with a square clubface, which typically results in a chunk and another difficult shot to try to get up and down. 

I like to tell my students that the long bunker shot is a harder bunker shot, literally. Swing harder and take a little more sand with a squared up clubface to get the shot you want. Don’t scare yourself. Be fearless and swing aggressively. See if you can swing hard enough to send sand halfway as far as the ball goes.

 

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