PGA Championship: Shifty sands surround Oak Hill

K.J. Choi practices bunker shots prior to the start of the 95th PGA Championship at Oak Hill.

K.J. Choi practices bunker shots prior to the start of the 95th PGA Championship at Oak Hill.

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PITTSFORD, N.Y. – The creamed spinach that’s doubling as greenside rough and Oak Hill’s towering trees are drawing much attention leading into the PGA Championship. But don’t overlook the venue’s tricky bunkers as serious obstacles at the season’s final major, two veteran caddies caution.

Joe LaCava, the caddie for Tiger Woods, and John Wood, the man on the bag for Hunter Mahan, said the sand is coarser here than in most bunkers encountered on the PGA Tour.

According to Wood, the sand has the consistency of tiny pebbles; typically, it’s more like confectioners’ sugar.

“It’s going to make stopping the ball out of the bunkers a lot tougher,” LaCava said. “You certainly don’t want to short-side yourself here, but you’d still rather be in the sand than in the rough.”

Said Bob Vokey, Titleist’s vice president of wedge development: “The sand is going to offer its own resistance, so wedges are going to bounce a little more. It’s going to be firm, so the ball shouldn’t nestle down as much.”

Because courses on Tour are set up so uniformly, players are accustomed to the ball sinking into the soft sand and develop bunker swings suited for such conditions. They’ll need to adjust their technique at Oak Hill this week.

Vokey said players won’t generate as much spin on their bunker shots here and will benefit from using higher-bounce wedges. Still, he added, proper technique will be critical.

Aaron Dill, a Vokey Design tour representative, said he saw many golfers practicing from fried-egg lies – often created when high-flying approach shots steeply descend into bunkers.

He said players can’t decelerate or be tentative in the bunkers, regardless of the lie, because the coarser sand increases resistance.

If you’re looking for a crafty pick in your office pool, consider this: Luke Donald, who is still looking to win his first career major championship, is currently ranked No. 1 on the PGA Tour in proximity to the hole from sand. His average leave from greenside bunkers is 6 feet, 6 inches. Rory McIlroy, who finished 2012 ranked No. 2 in that category (7 feet), is tied at 149th (10 feet, 3 inches).

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