Intimidating bunkers still an effective defense at Royal Lytham

Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Intimidating bunkers still an effective defense at Royal Lytham

LPGA Tour

Intimidating bunkers still an effective defense at Royal Lytham

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – One of the best spots for spectators to catch a breather early week at Royal Lytham & St. Annes is by the practice bunkers, where players contort themselves in all sorts of weird ways. They throw balls into the revetted faces and blast away. Shots that make most amateurs queasy look nearly effortless to the experts. So Yeon Ryu, for example, holed such a shot on Wednesday afternoon and barely looked up long enough to see the ball disappear.

Two winters ago, the powers that be at Royal Lytham removed 36 bunkers, bringing the total count to 167, still the highest number on the British Open rota. This was done to make the course more playable for amateurs. Most of the bunkers removed, however, didn’t even come into play for professionals. The sand still remains Lytham’s first line of defense.

Coming into the week, three-time British Open champ Karrie Webb told newbies that Lytham boasted the most severe pot bunkers she’d ever seen.

“There were times I had to take an unplayable,” Webb said.

But they’re softer than when the women last played here in 2009, she noted, with the sand graded up to the lip rather than a steep drop-off from the top.

One bunker that had been removed was put back this winter at the members’ behest. The back left pot bunker behind the third green came into play on the traditional back-left hole location, and the membership felt it was too iconic to get rid of, said Simon Avery, a club professional at Royal Lytham for the past three decades.

The toughest bunker on the course, Avery said, can be found left of the eighth green. Players can’t even see the flagstick after climbing inside. That being said, he once saw Gary Player fall face first into the bunker on the right side of that same green after taking an awkward stance.

While there’s usually a chance to make a shot from greenside bunkers, fairway bunkers are another story. Inbee Park called them an “automatic bogey.”

“And there are too many to avoid,” she said.

In preparing for the week, Ryu spoke with former Australian player Michael Clayton, who told her Seve Ballesteros hit into 14 bunkers one of the years he won at Royal Lytham and got up and down 13 times.

When Ryu asked for Seve’s secret, Clayton said, “Impossible. Only Seve can do it.”

Judy Rankin’s first links experience came at the British Amateur at Carnoustie, where she lost on the 18th.

“There were no buildings, just a little starter shack,” said Rankin, who is in the booth this week for Golf Channel and NBC. “The weather could not have been more horrid. We played in hail. I was so unprepared and not that wordly yet.”

Playing the ball along the ground while trying to navigate 167 bunkers takes a great deal of patience and presumably a bit of experience.

“What some players I’ve been watching don’t understand is you use the sand to get it out of the bunker,” said Webb. “Because the sand is so fine, but it’s dense and heavy. I think it’s easier to hit a long bunker shot here because you just use the sand to propel it.”

At this time last year, Ariya Jutanugarn told short-game coach Gareth Raflewski that she needed help with her bunker game. She had one stock shot, the chunk and run. Now, Ralfewski said, Jutanugarn has options from the sand, one more weapon in her quest to conquer links golf. Jutanugarn’s problem, not opening the clubface enough, is a common mistake particularly when the ball settles up close against a severe edge.

“One of the things it takes is some clubhead speed,” said Rankin. “The recreational golfer gets in that spot and they don’t open the face far enough. If they do swing with enough speed, they dig. And you can’t go deep.”

Cristie Kerr is among the contingent that counts Royal Lytham among their favorites. She appreciates the layout, the premium on accuracy, noting the importance of finding the correct lines and clubs off tees. Good caddies shine at venues like this.

“You’ve got to stand up there and hit shots,” said Kerr. “You can’t be timid; you can’t be tentative.”

But you must be patient.

Latest

More Golfweek
Home