By Ward Clayton, PGATOUR.COM
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Mark O’Meara is the only player in the field this week who played in the first PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass 30 years ago.
“You couldn’t see any other hole from the hole you were playing,” O’Meara said. “Trying to explain that to young kids today – when you stood on the first tee if you hit it left, you might have a yard or two off the left side of the cart path and then it was Palmetto palms and shrubs, and the golf course was wild. They've cleaned it out.
“And in a roundabout way when you clean out a golf course, it’s not that this golf course is easy because it’s still a very challenging golf course. But it’s certainly not as intimidating as it was when you stood on the 18th tee back in the olden days and if you flamed it up over the right you were up in the Sawgrass bushes on the hillside. There was no grass where all the spectators are.”
Jerry Pate noted that in 1982 when he birdied the par-3 17th hole four of the five days (there was a pro-am back then) he hit a “cut 8-iron” and players today hit wedges.
Here is a yardage comparison between 1982 and this year:
|Hole||1982 yardage||2011 yardage||Hole||1982 yardage||2011 yardage|
MEMORABLE MOMENTS: The best shots, finishes in the history of THE PLAYERS
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Jerry Pate calls the PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass diabolical. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
"It was designed to challenge the best shot-making," Pate said. "And if you look at the history of who's won here, just about all of them are pretty good ball strikers. Not all of them are long, not all of them are short, but they all could hit the ball straight. They could work the ball left to right and right to left.
"I think that was the key to playing well here, is striking the ball and knowing where it's going when you hit it because if you hit it off line you were going to pay the penalty."
Pate won THE PLAYERS Championship 30 years ago. He's known for jumping in the lake beside the 18th green -- pulling Deane Beman and Pete Dye in with him -- to celebrate that victory. In truth, though, it wasn't the first time he'd made such a plunge. He leapt into the water when he won the 1981 Danny Thomas Memphis Classic, too.
"We come here and it's a little different circumstance," Pate said. "You really need to go back and look at that field in '82 and see who missed the cut. It was incredible. And all the top names in golf complained the golf course was too hard. We didn't need to be in the golf business. It was unfair; it didn't reward great shot making; it was all about luck and all of the above.
".... And so I just decided, what the heck. I saw Alice Dye on 10, 11, 12, the par 4. I birdied 12, and it looks like I'm about to get into the lead, and she's walking from 12 over to 13. It's a pretty good walk, and she patted me on the back and said, ‘Come on, you can win this thing. Pete really wants you to win it.’ I said, Y’ou tell Pete I'm going to throw him in the lake.’ That was it."
While fans may remember that watery leap of faith, Pate most fondly recalls the 5-iron he hit to 2 feet at the 72nd hole. The 19-time PGA TOUR champ calls it one of the most "meaningful" shots of his career -- and that includes the 5-iron he hit out of the right rough, over the water, for birdie on the final hole of the 1976 U.S. Open.
"I had had some great shots in golf," Pate said. "You know, the hole in one at Cypress Point with a 1-iron, the hole in one at the U.S. Open where the four guys made hole in ones and then the Open shot with a 5-iron.
"But when I hit the shot in there, I don't know if people remember, but in the pressroom ... I said, yeah, I guess I pulled another 5-iron because people for years had said that to hit it this close on the last hole of the U.S. Open with the pin on the left and the water on the left you had to pull it. Nobody would do it. I said, Hey, at 22 years old you don't know what pull is. You're just, boom.
"You see the kids out there today, every shot is right at the pin, and needless to say I wasn't short on confidence. And I thought I was a great ball striker, so I just fired it right at the pin. That was a great rewarding moment for me was to hit that 5-iron on the last hole here two feet from the hole and be able to say that in the pressroom. I guess I can bench you guys now that I can hit the ball."
Obviously, it's early yet. But Edoardo Molinari is bidding to become the 12th man to win the U.S. Amateur and go on to capture the U.S. Open later in his career.
The 29-year-old Italian won the U.S. Am at Merion in 2005. He just made a double bogey at the difficult par-5 14th but he's still just two strokes off the lead at even par.
The last player to complete the U.S. Am-U.S. Open double was Tiger Woods. He won the 1994, '95 and '96 U.S. Ams and the 2000, '02 and '08 U.S. Opens. That 2000 victory also came at Pebble Beach.
The other players who have won both are Francis Ouimet, Jermone D. Travers, Charles Evans Jr., Bobby Jones, John Goodman, Lawson Little, Arnold Palmer, Gene Littler, Jack Nicklaus and Jerry Pate. -- Helen Ross