Dye's Valley roundtable: Four experts discuss one of the Tour's toughest tracks

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The water on 11 makes it one of the more intimidating tee shots on Dye's Valley.
September 25, 2013

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Dye's Valley at TPC Sawgrass has regularly ranked as one of the toughest course on the Web.com Tour schedule (as it previously hosted the Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open). We turned to PGA TOUR staffers Ryan Smithson, Chris Dunham Jr., John Schwarb and Andrew Chapman, who have each played it over 50 times, for their local knowledge and tips on how to conquer this difficult track. Here's what they had to say. 

What is the biggest difference between the Stadium Course and Dye's Valley?

Ryan Smithson: The cost? (Laugh). But seriously, Dye's Valley is shorter and tighter. Big hitters have a fighting chance on the Stadium, but it chews 'em up on the Valley. The rough is just as bad as the Stadium, and on some holes, it's worse. There are far fewer pine trees to deal with, though (this is an amateur problem). It seems like the wind is always in your face on the Valley, and the par-3s are (to me) tougher on the Valley. On the Valley, you get a lot of uneven lies in the fairway. 

Chris Dunham Jr.: While both courses make ball striking a priority, it's for different reasons. The Stadium is all about putting yourself into position to get into the right spots on and around the greens. The big challenge is on the putting surfaces. On the Valley, the bulk of the challenge is getting to the greens. It's all about finding fairways because, like Ryan said, the rough is very penal on Dye's Valley. The greens, while not easy, are not the challenge. It's navigating the tight fairways, water hazards and out-of-bounds markers to get in position to attack the pins.

Tee-to-green, the Valley course is the tougher course at TPC Sawgrass, in my opinion.

John Schwarb: Even though Dye is in the name, the Valley just has less Pete than the Stadium. Fewer mounds, softer greens, not as many twists and turns as the flagship course. And of course no single hole that keeps you up the night before with anticipation. But it's tight in many spots, has great par-3s and the rough (the course's main defense) can be savage. Dye's Valley is just as strong of a test, just not as notorious.

Smithson: I've broken 80 on the Stadium ... and never on the Valley. Not even 85. I felt better than the Web.com Tour arrived and 4 under won it. 

Dunham Jr: That 4 under mark can be deceiving since two of the members' par 5s (the 500-yard eighth and 499-yard 17th) play as par 4s for these guys and ranked as two of the toughest three holes at last year's Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open.

Schwarb: The Valley will make you feel pretty dumb when you lose a ball in the rough. Have seen that happen a lot more than on the Stadium. Over there, more of your errant shots end up wet or in a bunker.

Andrew Chapman: The biggest difference to me is the risk-reward factor.  Each hole on the Stadium has a designed way to play it to secure a par.  On the Valley, I can decide which shot I want to play knowing that the longer the club I choose off the tee, the more trouble I may get into, but also the more of a chance for a birdie I might end up with.  I think the Valley allows the player a lot more freedom to play to his strengths than the Stadium does.

Smithson: A good example of what Chapman is referring to is the 342-yard third hole. A long hitter can get really close to the green because it's flat with a lot of roll. It's an automatic birdie with a good tee shot. But if you miss by one hair, it's an easy six. 

Dunham: The third, last year, was the only non-par 5 on the course with 100 or more birdies carded.

Chapman: The same with the dogleg left 4th hole. I watched Sam Saunders try bomb it right over the dogleg last year and then all three players in the next group hit 3-wood or less off the tee.

Each guy can choose how much of the danger he wants to take on.

What is the hardest shot on the course?  

Schwarb: Tee shot on No. 11, for sure -- 227-yard par-3 with water back and right. If the wind's into you, it's even more of a crapshoot. Not the kind of shot you want for your second tee shot of the day when you tee off on 10 in the first or second round.

Smithson: For the pros, the 500-yard eighth, which is pretty flat, is a beast. There's not much roll, and the left rough is killer. For that reason, the second shot there is the toughest because the green is so narrow. It's the first really tough hole for the Web.com guys. 

Chapman: For me, it’s the tee shot on No. 6 with the fairway turning right with water down the right, but for these guys, it may be the second shot on 8.  Playing as a par-4, positioning off the tee will determine if the player has a long cut or has a straight away shot coming into the green.  Either way, the green is tough to hit.

Several greens on the Valley course are much narrower and longer than on the Stadium. 

Dunham: I thought about the 11th, but I'm going to go with the other back nine par-3, the 14th. Unlike the 11th, which gives you room to the left to bail out, the 203-yard 14th is protected by bunkers both short-left and mid-to-back right, and drops off sharply both on the left and behind the green. The only miss on that hole is short right and even there, depending on the pin, that's not necessarily an easy chip.

Smithson: Funny you say that, Dunham. I have seen you birdie that hole about 10 times. 

Chapman: I birdied it last week myself, but it takes a great shot to have a birdie try on 14.

Dunham: What can I say? I love my 5-iron but hate to stand over the ball and know "there's nowhere to miss this and be OK."

Schwarb: Tee shot on 6 is a good one. A dead-straight tee shot finds what might be the worst rough on the property. Getting greedy from there can add up to huge numbers. It's an amateur killer.

What is the easiest hole on the course?

Smithson: The par-5 first hole is pretty straightforward. It's not really reachable for amateurs, but two decent shots set up an easy pitch/chip. The green is flat. 

Chapman: The seventh hole.  I hit anything from driver to 4-iron off the tee and still almost always hit the green. You can miss in the mounds left and still have a great (maybe even better) look at the green.

Not drive the green, but you never have a long or particularly difficult second shot no matter where you're hitting from

Smithson: One of the longest hitters on the Web.com Tour, I forget who, nearly made an albatross on the par-4 seventh. It's only 313 yards for them with little trouble. 

Schwarb: Probably the par-4 third, as Ryan said. The hole can be tucked in the back-left of the green to create a blind approach for layups, but that's about it for the pros. Amateurs can make their own trouble in a variety of ways, and we have, but there's no reason for a pro to ever walk away with more than 4.

Dunham: I'm with you on the third hole, Schwarb. Players can hit almost anything off the tee and have the shot of their choice into the green. I've seen a middle-right pin position on the ridge give Web.com Tour guys fits in the past but the hole has little defense other than that.

Smithson: So, we're all in agreement that the easiest holes lie in the first 90 minutes you're on the course. Even the short par-3 second hole is a quick way to get a birdie. 

You're going to see a lot of guys start birdie-birdie-birdie. 

Dunham: Don't forget the par-3 fifth, which has never ranked harder than 15th toughest in the three years the Web.com Tour has played the Valley course.

Smithson: It's just a 9-iron for them at most. It's probably a bad comparision, but It's like Pebble Beach. Once you hit the eighth hole, it's all over. 

Schwarb: The fifth is a classic hole where the pros don't give it a second thought but ams just see trouble.

What is the toughest hole?

Dunham: I'm not particularly long off the tee (like Ryan and Andrew) or straight (like Schwarb) so the 462-yard sixth hole is a nightmare for me. It's the longest of the course's dogleg par-4s (both of the longer par-4s are straightaway) and a drive left brings the aforementioned nasty rough into play while an aggressive drive right has to challenge the water. The green is large but undulating and is guarded by water on the right side. The one time I've broken par on the front nine, this hole was my lone bogey and I still haven't forgiven it.

Smithson: I have seen the par-3 11th play as long as 250 yards from the back of the tee box to a pin at the back of the green. Water all the way down the right side, and it's usually into the wind. A bogey is a great score for an amateur. I have made exactly one birdie there in 94 rounds ... and it was a holed bunker shot. 

Chapman: The toughest holes for amatuers are the 6th and the 11th for their length and amount of trouble.  I think the 6th is more dangerous because the relatively easy start can lull you to sleep before you approach this monster.  You must hit the fairway to have a shot into the green and you must hit a good mid or long iron to hit the green.  The worst rough on the course is on the left side with water along the entire right side.

Schwarb: Gotta be the sixth. It's close to a mirror image of the 18th on Stadium and can wreck a round early.

Smithson: There is also a very ugly alligator that lives on the sixth hole. 

Dunham: Ugly? Not with that smile he always has on his face.

Schwarb: That's a great spot for a gator. Abundant sunshine and the house across the pond has a Big Green Egg grill, so maybe some leftover meat gets tossed in the water.

How will the course play in wet conditions?

Smithson: We had a lot of rain in Ponte Vedra Beach on Tuesday with more on the way Wednesday. The rollout is severely affected but the course still plays pretty short for the pros. 

Schwarb: Easier if you're in the fairway, like at any other pro event, but infinitely harder if you're not. Wet Bermuda rough is a nightmare.

Chapman:  Much longer and a little soggy.  Mudballs can be a factor, but the greens will soften as well.  The Valley doesn’t have the same drying systems as the Stadium. The rough, when wet, it like a U.S. Open so accuracy will be much more important.

Dunham: A wet course will only highlight the challenges of the Valley course. The rough, which you can lose a caddie in under normal conditions, only becomes thicker and heavier after storms. If it rains, players better hope for a lot because the greens drain pretty well and it will take more of the wet stuff to make the approach shots easier than it will to make driving harder. If the greens are softened, a pin in almost any spot on any green can be attacked. Players will want to lay back off the tee and make sure they find the fairway than attack the pins with one-to-two clubs more than they would under normal conditions.

Chapman: I agree with Chris, the course will get longer but will still be pretty playable for these guys

Schwarb: Good point about the drainage, you can get a monsoon on the Stadium in the morning and not even know it by afternoon. On the Valley, you'd notice the wetness the rest of the day. It's just different.

Smithson: The gator on the sixth hole is gone when it rains a lot. He likes the sun. 

Dunham: One less hazard.

Chapman: During the Club Championship a few weeks ago, the wet morning rough was the only topic of conversation after the round. Everyone in the field had stories of having to hack the ball out of the rough with a wedge instead of playing to the green.

What is the best spot to watch the action at Dye's Valley?

Smithson: Behind the 18th green because you can easily see the tee shot (it's a tough one). Just a solid finishing par-4.

Chapman: I like to go to the tee on 11.  Watching the world’s best navigate a long par 3 with a tough green is fun for me.  I also enjoy the par-4 seventh if a long hitter is coming up

Schwarb: Ditto on the seventh for big hitters, then I'd turn around and watch them tee off on No. 8. Gotta hit a good one there on the converted par-5.

Dunham: I gravitate toward the 13th when I'm out there. That hole can jump-start a back nine or lead to disaster. You can find someone gaining momentum there and follow them through the back nine.

Who is your pick to win it this week? 

Smithson: I think you have to look really hard at Russell Knox. Played at Jacksonville University and still lives at the beach. He's a medium hitter who doesn't get into trouble. David Mathis, the 2010 winner here, also fits that mold and is back in the field this week. It's won't be a bomber. They get killed here. 

Chapman: John Peterson – he’s second in total driving, plenty long enough, and 1st in GIR – he should have a lot of birdie looks and easy pars on a course where par is a good score.  He’s due after three top-5 finishes in the Finals.

Schwarb: Would love to see Sean O'Hair just for karma; the Stadium got its pound of flesh in '07 when he hit two in the drink at 17 in contention on Sunday. A win at the Valley would tie it all up nicely.

Smithson: I liked Nick O'Hern to win a lot better before it rained. Still his type of course though. 

Dunham: Going with Trevor Immelman to win his second event in the Web.com Tour Finals. I can sit on the range and watch him hit golf balls all day. This is the shortest and tightest course they play in the Finals and that's a good combination for Immelman.

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