LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – Talk about your days at the beach. Little sand. Little surf. Sounds restful, eh?
Well, sure, if the goal was to actually be at the beach. But when the intent is to play major-championship golf, the combination of sand and water is a rather confounding one, to tell the truth.
In fact, Keegan Bradley called what he saw at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in Friday’s second round a first.
“I’ve never been at a tournament where every bunker is full of water,” said the American, who might have been the first player in Open Championship history to don his foul-weather gear just to play a shot out of sand.
It happened at the 15th hole, where Bradley bunkered with his approach. Certainly, his weekend plans were in the balance, given that he was flirting with the cut, but of immediate concern was the fact that his golf ball sat on mud at the edge of a puddle of casual water.
Bizarre? Most certainly, and what came to mind was an old story told by John “Cubby” Burke, a longtime caddie who was referring to his yardage book one Open Championship at The Old Course when Mark Calcavecchia asked him, “How far to that jacuzzi?”
Burke shot him a quizzical look.
“The jacuzzi out there. How far?” Calcavecchia said.
“You mean the bunker?” Burke asked, and while he laughed heartily he was able to provide the yardage.
The story is recalled because after an overnight pelting of rain, this saturated links course had been pushed beyond the edge and couldn’t absorb any more. Because water will always find a low place to go, it settled into most of the 2,060 bunkers that define this majestic links. (OK, for the record, there are reportedly only 206 bunkers, but we’d like a recount.) The moisture found its escape into bunkers at every turn of the head, as if there were dozens and dozens of jacuzzis out there.
What to do? For beginners, you remind yourself of the No. 1 rule at a true links like Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
“You just need to keep out of the bunkers, which is the whole idea anyway,” Rory McIlroy said.
In other words, rubbish to suggestions that the course was unplayable, eh?
“It is an Open Championship,” Bradley said. “It is in a bunker. It’s very, very challenging, but you’re in a bunker, and you’ve got to deal with what you’ve got.”
McIlroy seconded that emotion, adding, “It’s totally fine. I don’t see any problem with water in the bunkers.”
No argument there, except that players had to understand what they were dealing with. For those whose golf ball or stance was affected by casual water, they were entitled to a drop.
But you had to be careful, Bradley said.
“The problem is, when it’s full of water, your drop is really bad and it’s going to plug. So, I really had no choice but to play it.”
As he surveyed the play, Bradley’s caddie, Steve “Pepsi” Hale offered an encouraging reminder of the shot played by Bill Haas to win a playoff at the Tour Championship, a greenside blast from the edge of a pond to the 17th green.
“That’s what Pepsi said,” Bradley said. “Just do what Bill Haas did.”
It wasn’t quite as brilliant (Haas had a tap-in for par to win), but Bradley was satisfied with his play to about 30 feet.
“It came out pretty good. I was really disappointed to be in the water when I’m in the bunker, but it was a good shot out of there. I made a good five,” Bradley said.
Of course, Bradley could at least consider himself lucky to have been in a large-enough bunker where a drop was possible. Less fortunate were those players who put their golf balls into smaller bunkers where water filled the entire hole. Were you submerged in that situation, you had no choice but to take a drop, and given that it would be outside the bunker, it was a one-stroke penalty.
Now that wrinkle had some players shaking their heads.
“It’s pretty unfortunate,” Geoff Ogilvy said. Then he shook his head and reminded one and all about the golden rule in links golf.
“I guess you just have to treat them as if they’ve got (red or yellow) stakes around them – which you probably should treat them like that, anyway.”
Of course, whenever you attempt to present a picture of difficulty, there’s always someone who offers a contrasting view. Such as Tiger Woods, bunkered to the right of the 18th green thanks to one of his poor misfires. No, there weren’t any puddles to deal with, but it was very wet and very chunky sand, and he did have to get the ball up in a hurry, and, well . . . he holed it for birdie. It completed his second-straight 67, pushed him to 6 under, and he sits just four off the lead.
Which is a whole lot better than sitting in casual water in a bunker.