Fabel discusses fabled past at TPC Sawgrass' 17th hole

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Brad Fabel had two of the most famous shots on the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass.
April 29, 2009
Laury Livsey, PGA TOUR Staff

Brad Fabel looks on the bright side.

He wasn't the first player to make a hole-in-one at THE PLAYERS Championship once the tournament moved to THE PLAYERS Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, but he was the first to do it at the course's most famous hole.

As for other antics at the course's final par 3, the island 17th hole, he was definitely the first - and he may be the last.

Yes, Fabel and the 17th hole share quite a history.

At the 1986 PLAYERS at TPC Sawgrass, Jim Gallagher Jr., etched his name into tournament lore by making his ace an hour or two before Fabel made his. Gallagher took a 7-iron at the third hole and watched his tee shot bounce short of the pin, release and roll into the cup.

Fabel smiles at the memory of his ace, a 9-iron approach that landed long and drew back into the hole. "I didn't even have a chance to exhale before it went in," Fabel says.

That 1 on the scorecard helped Fabel to a first-round 71 that year, although in the second round he shot a 3-over 75 to miss the cut, leaving him tied, ironically, with Gallagher at 2-over 146. Fabel was a resident of Ponte Vedra Beach at the time, living about a half-mile from the clubhouse. After his work week finished, he simply got in his car and drove a couple of minutes to his Cypress Creek neighborhood.

Fabel's hole-in-one, besides being the first at No. 17 in competition, was also his first PGA TOUR ace. He added three more after that - at the 1992 Anheuser-Busch Classic, the 1999 Canon Greater Hartford Open and the 2000 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Overall, Fabel has had 18 holes-in-one, and not all of them have been things of beauty.

"My hole-in-one in Hartford, I almost missed the green. The pin was on the right, and I pulled my shot left. But the ball caught the collar of the green and then rolled and rolled until it went in," he adds. "I think most holes-in-one have a certain degree of luck."

Then there is that other time at No. 17, coming 12 years after his ace. "I'd never seen anything like it, before or since," Fabel adds.

Besides making that ace at No. 17, the Kentucky native is also the only player to hit the 17th green at TPC Sawgrass, watch his ball come to a complete stop and still end up in the water. At the 1998 PLAYERS, Fabel stood on the tee preparing to hit when he noticed a seagull sitting on the bulkhead in front of the green. "The hole that day was cut in the same place as it was for my hole-in-one, toward the front. I saw the bird, and I thought it would be just my luck that I'd hit the bird in the head and have my ball go in the water," Fabel remembers.

"But I hit my shot long and right. So I was OK, I thought. Everything after that was like in slow motion."

With a shot that left him safely on the green, Fabel stood on the tee and watched as the bird left the bulkhead and began walking toward his ball. With the crowd cheering and encouraging, the bird sauntered closer and closer, eventually trying to snatch it with his beak. It took the gull a couple of tries before he secured the ball and flew away over the water surrounding one of the most famous holes in golf. A few seconds later, the ball fell from the bird's beak.

Fabel, who is retired as a player and now works as a PGA TOUR rules official, says he had no idea what the ruling would be when he saw the splash. "The only word I can use is 'disbelief.' I couldn't believe what I had just seen," he says. Fabel was rattled enough that even after officials determined the ball should be placed approximately in its previous spot with no penalty, Fabel bogeyed after a three-putt.

What, you expected him to make birdie?