Was the R&A wrong to change pot bunkers mid-Open Championship?
Check in each day of this week’s Open Championship for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topic in the tournament, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com.
Pesky pot bunkers gave players fits during Round 1 of the Open Championship, causing many players to pitch out sideways and leading to several ugly numbers. But on Friday the R&A announced it had changed the way in which the bunkers were raked for the second round, citing dry conditions that led to more balls resting against the faces than normal. Now, with edges slightly curved instead of flat, balls will come to rest more in the middle of the bunkers. What do you think of the change?
James Colgan, news and features editor (@jamescolgan26): I support it. This feels like one of those small changes that matters a lot to the players and very little to the overall shape of the tournament. If Matthew Jordan, who grew up at Royal Liverpool, is surprised by how difficult they were, perhaps they were an overstep of the true difficulty of the golf course.
Sean Zak, senior writer (@Sean_Zak): They’ve been working on establishing this setup in the sand for months. For the R&A to react this way after 18 holes is too bad. Give it two days to see if the changes are really needed for the weekend.
Josh Berhow, managing editor (@Josh_Berhow): This got a ton more attention — and more importantly, air time — when three stars came through late in the day and struggled. Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas both had to pitch out sideways on 18. Rory McIlroy couldn’t escape on his first try but hit a miraculous second and made a clutch par. Does this happen if those three don’t find the bunkers on 18?
Colgan: Maybe it doesn’t, Josh! But if it’s something three-quarters of the field was thinking about at the end of Thursday, maybe those three bunker shots salvaged the issue before it got really out of control on Friday, or Saturday … or Sunday.
Berhow: I won’t lose sleep over the change, but I will say I’m a little confused by it. Pot bunkers are notoriously brutal. They are supposed to be a penalty. Don’t go in them! They are a part of the identity of The Open and if they are difficult, so be it. It’s not like Open setups are planned a week ahead of the tournament. This was what they wanted to do for a long time, and to retreat after 18 holes is a head-scratcher. I agree with Sean that, if anything, give it a 36-hole sample size. It reminds me of what Jon Rahm said about the controversial par-3 17th hole earlier this week: even if it’s unfair, that means it’s fair for everyone.
Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): Pot bunkers are hilarious and cruel — that’s kind of the point! I wrote on Thursday about the sadistic joy of watching pros struggle through ridiculous situations, which includes Tony Finau putting backwards from the edge of one pot bunker. And I think Josh’s question of whether this is basically a response to that Rory-Rahm sequence on No. 18 is a fair one. So where do I stand? I’m very cautiously in favor of the change, I guess. But the fix has to be subtle. The bunkers should still be properly penal. Brooks Koepka pointed out on Tuesday that one of the crucial strategic elements of links golf is just avoiding bunkers. They’re one of Hoylake’s main defenses!