Sheridan: Examining the Island Green at TPC Sawgrass; How Many Water Balls?

The PLAYERS Championship - Preview Day 3

Getty A view of the 17th green during a practice round for The PLAYERS Championship on The Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on March 13, 2019 in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

The 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass may be the most famous hole in golf, the famous .. or “infamous” … island green that annually makes or breaks THE PLAYERS Championship, which is being held in March this year instead of May … which will trick up the 17th a little more than usual.

With sports betting no longer illegal in the United States, one offshore site has put up an over/under (37 1/2) on the number of balls that will end up in the water on No. 17. It is a curiously low number, as 53 went into the drink last year and 69 in 2017. Then again, all of the Top 50 ranked players are in the field.

The PGA record for highest score on No. 17 is held by Bob Tway, who fed four balls to the alligators before putting a fifth tee shot onto the green and then three-putting in the third round of the 2005 tourney.

Since 2003 at the Players, pros have hit 757 shots into the water at 17—almost 11 percent of all tee shots—including 93 in 2007, when 50 shots splashed in the first round. The 17th made its debut in 1982, and Jack Nicklaus spoke for many in the early years of the course: “A lot of guys would like to put a bomb under that thing.”

Each year, divers retrieve more than 100,000 balls from the lake.

There have been eight hole-in-ones during the PLAYERS, most recently by Sergio Garcia in 2017.

Among non-pros, there is the story of Angelo Spagnola, a grocery shop owner from Pittsburgh who scored a 66 on the par 3. He is not among these highlights:

The primary storyline heading into this week’s tournament has been whether Tiger Woods’ strained neck will force him to withdraw. Rod Bolton of PGATour.com lists Justin Thomas as the favorite, followed by Francesco Molinari, who is coming off a victory at Bay Hill.

But what will count the most, presumably, is what happens on No. 17 on Sunday.

Golf Digest interviewed almost 50 players, caddies, course architects and commentators to learn the nuances of what makes 137 yards on the scorecard such torture for even the best in the game.

A few of the best quotes:

BILLY FOSTER (caddie for Matt Fitzpatrick): The best players on the planet stand on the tee shaking like a shitting dog—and it’s only a wedge. It’s amazing what it does to them when you have 10,000 people sitting there jeering and hoping you hit it in.

ROCCO MEDIATE: I lived there for 17 years and probably have played the course more than any human being. It’s an amazing golf hole. The green has more square footage than any other hole on the golf course, but if it’s firm and the wind gets to blowing, then it’s a tiny target. There is nothing stupid about the hole, with the exception of a few years when they shaved the fringe area down to nothing—any spin on the ball, and there was nothing stopping it. That was just dumb.

JASON DUFNER: It’s a pretty easy hole for me. I’ve never hit it in the water there, knock on wood—36 in a row.

These next five comments concern playing the tournament in March as opposed to May:

ROCCO MEDIATE: I can’t wait for them to have a day where it’s 45 degrees and blowing. Then we’ll see who’s got some nerves. And if it’s hard as a brick on top of it, that could be a nightmare.

JERRY KELLY: I hit a 5-iron there one year in March. If you think a lot of balls drown when they hit wedges, just wait.

LEE WESTWOOD: I remember hitting a 5-iron. No fun.

JIMMY WALKER: I think it’s about to become a really good hole again.

For what it is worth, I have a friend who lives in San Antonio but caddies in Westchester every spring, summer and fall. He tipped me off last spring that Shinnecock was going to be especially tough last year, with a winning score of something around +1. He nailed it.

And who does that guy, Matt Brophy, like to win this year?

Dustin Johnson.

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