FORT WORTH, Texas – It’s been a busy week in the equipment trucks at the Charles Schwab Challenge.
What would normally be a sleepy week following a major championship was upended by an equipment phenomenon born in the Southern Hills Country Club sand. Only slightly behind Justin Thomas’ come-from-behind heroics and Tiger Woods’ dramatic early exit, the most-talked-about topic at the PGA Championship was the bunker sand which, by nearly every account, was a true hazard.
The issue appeared to be a combination of inconsistency and consistency, as in the ratio between actual sand and what was best described as pebbles.
“The bunkers last week were bizarre. They were very unique. I would say that the most annoying part about them was just the amount of pebbles on the green and the rocks on the greens. They were literally everywhere,” said PGA champion Justin Thomas. “If your ball hit a rock, it was going to bounce off line or bounce up in the air. That was the hardest part.”
The field sand save average for the week was 47.4 percent, which is a little more than a half-point worse than the season average on the PGA Tour. That might not sound like much, but for the game’s best, it’s significant.
At Southern Hills, normally straightforward shots were complicated by inconsistent lies in the sand and pebbles that made it almost impossible to spin the ball.
“I think it played fair. Like you weren't getting bad lies. I wasn't getting bad lies. I was getting good lies in the bunkers,” Collin Morikawa said. “It was just harder to play out of them, which, in reality, it just makes you play to certain parts of the green a little bit more, and sometimes you get short-sided, and it's going to play the penalty it should.”
The biggest issue might have been the wear and tear on wedges. A representative for one equipment manufacturer said they spent Monday and Tuesday at Colonial Golf Course — the host of this week’s Tour stop — building more than 40 new wedges, which is well above what would have been requested.
While players noticed the increased degree of difficulty playing out of Southern Hills’ bunkers, most appreciated the unique challenge at one of the game’s most important events.
“On the PGA Tour, we're spoiled week in, week out with amazing conditions, the best agronomy staff pretty much every single week, playing the best golf courses, and so I hate being kind of the, hey, go play better, but if you're hitting it in bunkers you're probably not going to be playing well to begin with,” said Will Zalatoris, who lost to Thomas in Sunday’s playoff.