R&A alters pot bunkers after punishing lies at the Open Championship

justin thomas hits out of bunkers

The pot bunkers at Royal Liverpool will not be the same on Friday.

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HOYLAKE, England — The Open Championship just got a little bit easier.

On Friday morning, the R&A announced it had adjusted the depth of the pot bunkers at Royal Liverpool, in theory making it easier for players to execute shots out of the bunkers.

“We would like to advise you of an adjustment we have made to the way the bunkers are raked overnight,” the R&A said in a statement to media. “Yesterday afternoon the bunkers dried out more than we have seen in recent weeks and that led to more balls running straight up against the face than we would normally expect. We have therefore raked all of the bunkers slightly differently to take the sand up one revet on the face of the bunkers.”

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The change raises the edges of the bunkers, allowing the base of the hazard to form a collection area and lowering the chance that balls will come to rest against the steep faces of the bunkers, as they did for a chunk of golfers on Open Thursday.

The Open traditionally tries to keep its bunkers flat, a decision made to preserve the “hazard” of hitting a shot into one of them. But after Thursday’s opening round, it was clear that the current bunker setup was heavily punishing the players who wound up in them.

On the par-5 18th hole, Justin Thomas inadvertently blasted his tee shot from against the edge of one pot bunker and into another. He arrived in the second bunker to find his ball again pressed against the face, and was forced to play out of the sand and in the opposite direction. He made nine.

A few minutes later, Rory McIlroy arrived in the same bunker and needed to play a two-yard shot moving his ball from one edge of the bunker to the other just to exit the hazard. He escaped with a brilliant up-and-down for par, but it was clear he was nonplussed.

“It’s just when you hit it into these bunkers you’re sort of riding your luck at that point and hoping it’s not up against one of those revetted faces,” McIlroy “Yeah, Jon [Rahm] and I didn’t have much of a shot with our thirds, so then you’re just hoping to make par somehow and get out of there.”

Of course, there’s an argument to be made that the faces of the pot bunkers help to preserve the difficulty of both the golf course and the championship. For those who didn’t want to hit ugly bunker shots, the easiest solution isn’t to change the bunkers but to avoid hitting in them. But there’s a counterargument, one made by a handful of players Thursday, that the challenge presented by the bunkers was beyond what one would normally expect.

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“Both 11 and 15, the bunkers I hit it into, to those pins, it’s normally easy. I would have had no bother, but I did well just to get them both out,” Royal Liverpool regular Matthew Jordan said. “I’m surprised how harsh they are really, but I guess there you go, it’s links golf.”

The R&A attributed its decision to “drier conditions,” and not player backlash — but it’s hard to believe the governing body didn’t at least listen to the input offered by some of the field’s competitors before making the decision.

“We routinely rake bunkers flat at most Open venues but decided this adjustment was appropriate in light of the drier conditions which arose yesterday,” the governing body’s statement read. “We will continue to monitor this closely for the remainder of the Championship.”

James Colgan

Golf.com Editor

James Colgan is a news and features editor at GOLF, writing stories for the website and magazine. He manages the Hot Mic, GOLF’s media vertical, and utilizes his on-camera experience across the brand’s platforms. Prior to joining GOLF, James graduated from Syracuse University, during which time he was a caddie scholarship recipient (and astute looper) on Long Island, where he is from. He can be reached at james.colgan@golf.com.