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Rory McIlroy

Sandgate: Are the bunkers really a problem at Southern Hills?

There’s been plenty of chat about the sand at the PGA Championship. But how difficult are the bunkers actually playing? George Cooper takes a closer look
 

You may have noticed the bunker sand at Southern Hills is a bit different to what you’re used to seeing.

Called ‘Tour Signature’, it is much darker and stone-like in texture compared to the usual soft white bunkers featured on the PGA Tour. At the beginning of PGA Championship week, Ian Poulter took to Instagram to shed light on the apparent difficulty caused by the gritty sand.

“You will see some shots out of bunkers this week which won’t have any spin due to the coarse fine gravel type sand,” he explained. “You get tiny stones between ball and club face making it super inconsistent.

“Bunkers to be avoided at all costs.”

Since the start of play at the 104th PGA Championship, many of the world’s best have resonated with Poulter’s forecast and been vocal about the Southern Hill’s sand.

“It’s definitely the hardest sand [and] most challenging sand I’ve ever played in,” said Justin Thomas, a thought then echoed by Tiger Woods after a four-over 74 on the opening round.

“All the bunker shots sort of came out hot,” the 15-time mjaor champion explained. “The sand is a lot faster than I thought it would be.”

The sand is, however, the exact same Woods took on in Tulsa when he won the PGA Championship there in 2007.

Certainly, the bunkers at times haven’t been a safe place to bail out, or if you’re Joaquin Niemann, a safe place to stay in, as the Chilean took a comical sandy tumble during day two.

At times, other inconsistencies have been there for all to see. During the second round, Collin Morikawa showed disgust at one bunker shot on the 10th hole, letting out a sarcastic “Ah, no sand” as his clubface struck the pebbles, only for the ball to end up stiff two inches from the cup.

But how difficult have the bunkers actually played? According to data insights collected by Arccos, after the first two rounds the sand save percentage at Southern Hills was 45.4%.

By way of comparison, the average on the PGA Tour is 49.6%, with six events in 2021 producing a lower figure.

On paper, maybe not so savage after all. Paul McGinley then weighed in on what appears to be an overreaction by some of the world’s best.

Perhaps much of the sand fiasco is actually boiling down to the frequency in which players are finding the white stuff, or grey stuff in this instance. So far this week, players have found the bunkers twice as much as the PGA Tour average, with 43% of shots around the green coming from the greenside bunkers at Southern Hills – the next highest on the Tour circuit being Abu Dhabi with 34%.

But let’s not forget, bunkers are meant to be a hazard, not a novelty, and this is a major championship after all.

Despite missing the cut and becoming far too familiar with the sand at Southern Hills, World No 1 Scottie Scheffler perhaps summed it up best before he headed home: “Bunkers aren’t supposed to be easy to play out of.”

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