Why the Southern Hills bunkers could pose huge problems at the PGA Championship

Southern Hills is already a difficult golf course, but the sand that inhabits the bunkers could make things even tougher.

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TULSA, Okla. — Let’s state the obvious real quick: Southern Hills is a hard golf course. How hard? According to stats expert Lou Stagner, a 5 index would have a course handicap of 13 from the back tees at Southern Hills — and that’s not even factoring in major-championship conditions.

The greens are devilish and errant approach shots are punished as they settle in a variety of collection areas. Canted fairways abound throughout the course, and flat lies are a rarity. Plus, the course is long; 7,556 yards to be exact.

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All those factors combine for a substantial test. But what might turn out to be the most difficult challenge players face this week is the bunkers surrounding the greens. As you watch the action on TV (or from the grounds in Tulsa), you’ll notice the sand is a bit discolored from what pro golfers typically face. Instead of pearly white sediment, these bunkers have a tinge of brown to them.

The slightly different color makes for a gorgeous scene, but the different sand also presents a unique challenge for golfers. As Ian Poulter pointed out on Instagram on Wednesday, the “coarse fine gravel type sand” makes it immensely difficult to control spin when coming out of the bunker.

“There’s tiny little rocks that can get between the blade and the ball,” Poulter told GOLF.com. “And if you do get a little rock, the ball can come out super fast. No spin; side spin. So it just makes it a little interesting.”

This might seem like much ado about nothing to our weekend warriors hearing Poulter’s gripe, but for the best players in the world, even the smallest things can have a huge impact. One tiny rock can be the difference between birdie and bogey — and that can decide the championship.

Worse yet, there’s no change in technique that can guard against the tiny rocks in the sand. It’s all up to chance.

“There’s nothing you can do,” Poulter said. “It’s just guesswork. You’ve just got to play it normal and hope you don’t get the tiny little stone between the blade and ball. It’s impossible to predict.”

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Zephyr Melton

Golf.com Editor

Zephyr Melton is an assistant editor for GOLF.com where he spends his days blogging, producing and editing. Prior to joining the team at GOLF.com, he attended the University of Texas followed by stops with Team USA, the Green Bay Packers and the PGA Tour. He assists on all things instruction and covers amateur and women’s golf.