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Bunker back to water hazard on 18 at Blackwolf Run

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KOHLER, Wis. – Herb Kohler’s bunkers sure get a lot of attention in major championships.

There was the issue over whether Dustin Johnson should have known he was in a bunker when he botched his play at the 18th hole in the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits two years ago. This year, the issue was whether the hazard along the left side of the 18th hole at Blackwolf Run should be a bunker in the U.S. Women’s Open return here.

The hazard at Blackwolf Run's 18th is a sand bunker for resort guests, but it famously played as a water hazard when Se Ri Pak took her shoes off and waded in there to blast an escape in her playoff victory when she won 14 years ago.

With the U.S. Women’s Open returning to Blackwolf Run this year, the U.S. Golf Association wanted to keep it as a bunker. The thinking was that it would tempt players to make bolder plays at tough pins there.

Kohler fought it, and he prevailed.

Pete Dye built the bunker so it could easily be filled with water and transformed into a water hazard. That’s what it is again this year.

“That’s the way it was built to play, originally, with water, but it caused too much [slow down of play] during normal resort play, so we drained it,” Kohler said.

With pipes and a high-tech drainage system in place, the bunker can be filled with water within three days. That’s what Kohler did last Friday after winning his argument with the USGA.

“The professionals can play in sand like they do in the fairway,” Kohler said. “Also, Se Ri Pak established what has become an iconic image, stepping into the water to play that shot in the playoff. That image has been played and replayed literally thousands of times in the country of South Korea. That image has become so iconic, when the USGA suggested they would like to have it as sand, we said we really shouldn’t do that. They were pushing.”

Kohler convinced USGA executive director Mike Davis of the importance of that bit of history there.

Back at media day in May, that bunker was filled with sand. Still, So Yeon Ryu, the reigning U.S. Women’s Open champ, climbed down there, took off her shoes and played the same shot Pak played, though not in water. Ryu said she had been looking forward to trying that shot since she was a little girl and first saw Pak play it on television.