The crack staff over at golf.com spent a day recently at the island green at TPC Sawgrass watching the amateurs take their hacks. The numbers are pretty horrifying. 107 total balls in the water. A scoring average of 5.397. The latest data in a long line of studies that prove most people are very, very bad at golf. The most surprising number was that the 17th played a mere 112 yards for the hackers that day. One hundred and twelve yards. What, no one can hit a little bunny sand wedge anymore?
The island green at Sawgrass is one of the most famous holes in all of golf, and I think is probably the one that people see on television and want to play the most (aside from a few at Augusta maybe). But, there is something miniature golf about the 17th that attracts everyone, even people who don’t play golf. It’s the free game hole, it has the absurdity of a carnival booth. At first glance it looks like it is rigged against you, but that doesn’t mean you don’t want to try your hand. And, that is what people do every day at the TPC. They line up by the hundreds and hit their balls into the water (sometimes two or three at a clip) and they have their story. I wouldn’t be surprised if some people subconsciously guide their shots into the drink. Hitting the green sounds less fun, don’t you want to take part in the misery?
I’ve got to say that I wouldn’t mind taking a chance at the 17th, but I’m going to be pretty straight with you here. I would like my chances. A lot. You are talking about someone who has extensive experience with the famed island green at Bella Vista. And, that can stretch to 150 horrifying yards. Ok, that’s mostly a joke, but I honestly think I could hit sand wedges into 17 all day. Assuming there wasn’t 20,000 people there and I wasn’t playing for 1.5 million dollars. That would make me choke. A curious guy watering the flowers might make me choke, but it wouldn’t be the water. It’s a gosh darn wedge! I love hitting sand wedge. I’d birdie that beast constantly. For those of you that don’t hit sand wedge from every yardage under 129 yds, you’ll probably be excited to watch my upcoming golf instruction videos on YouTube. The first video will be titled, “The Rhythm Test.” The second will be called, “Nuclear Sand Wedge.” It’s a two-part series.
So, if you didn’t figure it out by now, the Players (formerly the Players Championship) is this week. The Players is the marquee event for the PGA Tour, and they try desperately to get their nouveau event into the upper echelon of tournaments. The term “5th major” was thrown around for a long time, but there is never going to be a 5th major. The Players distinguishes itself with a strong field, the unique and challenging Sawgrass layout and a gigantic purse. Most of the weight the Players once carried was due to its life-changing payday. When the Players was awarding 500,000 when a regular event was offering 180,000–that’s a monumental difference. Now, it’s the difference between 1 million and 1.5 and the spoiled golfers don’t take as much notice. In fact, top Euros Lee Westwood and Rory McIlory can’t even be bothered to tee it up this year.
But, even with forced prestige and this arbitrary date between the Masters and U.S. Open the Players is almost always good for some drama. I told someone last week that I’ve taken an NBA playoffs type approach to watching golf. You turn it on toward the end, check to see if it is close and if it is you’ll see everything you need to see. A choke, a playoff, it all happens in the last couple of hours. Add Sawgrass’s final 3 holes to the mix and you are almost certain to have tension. No lead is safe, especially if it is being protected by a guy like Len Mattiace or Sean (H2) O’Hair.
Tiger is back this week from his knee/achilles tendon injury. I wouldn’t expect too much. He’s hardly played since Augusta and Sawgrass is very demanding off the tee. Unless Tiger can get away with 3-wood all week, he could be in danger of some high numbers. Most pundits seem to be landing on Luke Donald, but there’s a guy who I could see splashing down under pressure (anyone catch the Masters?). Adam Scott and his long putter are also getting some love. If I was making a pick, I’m not sure where I would go, but you could see a blast from the past like Vijay or Sergio up there and on the American side, Davis Love fits that category. Otherwise, it’s totally wide open, as usual.