Monday 23 October 2017

Bunkers 'to be avoided like the pledge'

The best solution is to just stay out of them, says Dermot Gilleece

Bunker grief for the game's elite would have prompted some wry smiles among Royal Lytham members these last few days. They know what it's like to suffer in sand, as Rory McIlroy did with six of his 75 strokes on Friday, though Brandt Snedeker avoided all 206 traps in his opening 36 holes.

McIlroy's travails were trivial, however, compared with the possibilities for handicap players when confronting the most feared hazards in championship golf.

Lytham's current record holder for bunker-bother, whose identity we will protect, plays off 11. Determined to avoid a 'no return' in a club competition, he battled bravely, if not very fruitfully, until the short ninth. There, where Paul McGinley had a hole-in-one in the second round of the 1996 Open, he hit a reasonable tee-shot and completed the hole with two putts. In between, however, he played no fewer than 27 strokes and incurred a one-stroke penalty for a total of 31 on the hole.

Most of the shots were played in four of the nine bunkers which encircle the green. And I'm informed that the unkindest cut was, having escaped successfully with his 17th stroke, his ball landed on a bare, sandy lie from where he proceeded to skull it back into the sand from whence it came. He eventually signed a card for 135.

Bunkers were always a vital element of Lytham's defence, to the extent that it's believed there were once no fewer than 365 of them, one for every day of the year. In the context of our intrepid record-holder, it is significant that the deepest of the current array is to the back left on the ninth from where McIlroy, incidentally, took two to escape on Friday.

Prior to this championship, an additional bunker was placed on the right side of the 18th fairway, bringing the total there to 17. And a further two were placed on the right at the sixth, where Alan Dunbar ran up a triple-bogey seven after sand trouble on Thursday. This is because with modern equipment, a poor drive is more likely to be blocked right rather than pulled left, as was once the case.

Meanwhile, with some of them remaining in a sodden, waterlogged state they are especially difficult. Yet typically, Phil Mickelson demonstrated how to handle even the most forbidding bunker recovery. But there were novel approaches by Australian Aaron Townsend, who used a putter in sand to move the ball into a playable position, and Lee Westwood, who successfully played left-handed so as to avoid exploding into rough.

The straightness of revetted bunker faces, sometimes more than six feet high, is the source of most problems. Depending on how close the ball finishes to this sheer rise, the only options may be to smash it against the face in the hope it will bounce back into a playable position in the sand, or to escape sideways, possibly into heavy rough.

Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee offered the advice: "Sometime you need to be short. No need too long because every bunker in play on every hole." Or in the immortal words of Myles na gCopaleen, they're to be avoided like the pledge.

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