By Matt Hombach
Even without Tiger Woods in the tournament, the Players Championship at Tournament Players Club Sawgrass generated high TV ratings and proved to be fun to watch last weekend. While tournament officials couldn’t necessarily tout it as the “Best Field in Professional Golf” or a “Fifth Major” since Tiger is laid up, the Players still generated a lot of excitement, thanks to the daunting 17th hole at Sawgrass.
The par-3 is one of the shortest holes the pros play all year, measuring just over 130 yards. Most hit a wedge or short iron when the wind is down. What changes the equation completely is that the green is surrounded by water and thousands of charged-up fans -- turning a seemingly innocuous par-3 into one of the most revered holes in golf.
One of the most daunting holes in golf, the par-3 17th hole at Sawgrass is a short 130 yards surrounded by water and enthusiastic fans.
(St. Johns County VBC)
Pete Dye, who designed the TPC, said the island green was not in the original design, but evolved during the construction of the course. The site for the Stadium Course at Sawgrass was marshy, and a high volume of fill dirt was transplanted from what is now the 17th hole to build up other areas. Dye’s wife supposedly came up with the idea of turning the area into a large pond and placing an island green in the center.
While some pros complain the hole is too gimmicky and doesn’t require a lot of strategy, many pros and a majority of fans seem to think it is one of the best holes on the planet.
RENDITIONS REPLICA TESTS LOCAL GOLFERS
"There’s definitely two different perspectives on the 17th at Sawgrass,” said Rock Zang, head pro at Renditions, a course that features an exact replica of the hole. “Some would say it is a perfect hole, and others would say it’s not fair and too difficult because there’s no bail-out spot.
"Personally, I think it is fantastic. It truly isn’t a difficult shot when it comes right down to it, but it really tests the mental aspect of the game.”
Zang pointed out that the pros on TV and the local golfers playing Renditions can make an easy par or even a birdie with a good shot, but if nerves get to them, a 6 or 7 is a real possibility.
While big numbers are a possibility with an island green involved, Zang relayed the story of an unlikely ace that a lucky golfer known now as “The Iceman” scored a few winters back. With some high dollar bets riding on the hole, Iceman hit a bad shot, leaving it woefully short of the green. Cold overnight temperatures had frozen the lake, however, and the ball bounced onto the green and rolled into the cup unscathed.
LATE-ROUND PRESSURE ADDS TO CHALLENGE
Another element that adds to the excitement of the 17th hole is that players have to face it late in the round. Tour veteran Mark Calcavecchia summed it up well a few years ago when he commented on playing No. 17.
"It is like having a 3 o'clock appointment for a root canal,” he said. “You're thinking about it all morning and you feel bad all day. You kind of know sooner or later you've got to get to it.”
"If the island green at Sawgrass came up earlier in the round, it would make it somewhat easier,” said Drew Forrester, host of WNST’s morning show and a low handicapper. “But players can see the hole from a lot of different spots on the course. Thinking about that shot all day wears on them and definitely plays with their heads.”
Forrester also noted the short length of the hole and the island green forces the pros to hit the shot dead straight, something they aren’t used to.
"Most of these pros have a go-to shot that they are comfortable with. Whether it’s a little cut or a little draw, they know they can work the ball and hit a good shot every time,” he said. “At Sawgrass, it’s a little different. The hole requires a straight shot and sometimes the hardest shot in golf is dead straight, even for the pros.”
Tim Rahnis, general manager of the Westminster Island Green Driving Range, has played the hole on a golf trip to Florida a few years back and said it lives up the hype.
"It wasn’t much more than a wedge for me and seemed pretty easy when you’re down there hitting with no people around,” he said, “but with a golf tournament or a lot of money on the line, I could see how it would be a whole different story.”
WNST WILL HOST CHARITY OUTING
The crew at WNST will be hosting its fifth annual Charity Golf Outing May 22 at Mountain Branch. This year, the benefiting charity is the Casey Cares Foundation, an organization that assists critically ill children and their families during their period of illness or trauma and during the recovery phase.
Issue 3.20: May 15, 2008