What it feels like at TPC Sawgrass' 17th...
... To stand on the tee? To watch the ball in the air? To play from the drop area
May 09, 2016
By Helen Ross and D.J. Piehowski , PGATOUR.COM
- The 17th hole is arguably the most famous hole in golf and provides a dramatic ending to THE PLAYERS Championship. (Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)
The 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass' THE PLAYERS Stadium Course has obvious appeal. Most players easily find the green on this 137-yard, par-3, but the penalty is severe for those who misfire. Birdies are commonplace, but double-bogeys aren't rare, either. Several PLAYERS Championship participants let us know what it feels like to play golf's most famous hole.
What's it feel like to play No. 17?
BUBBA WATSON: So 17 doesn't see eye to eye with me. I think I've played it well over par. The first couple years when you're playing here, you get juiced up, you get pumped up, so the ball goes a little farther. I've hit sand wedge over the green. I really don't miss it left and right, I miss it long or short. Over the last couple years I've played it a little bit better, a little bit more consistent, trying to get used to the adrenaline. ... It's a great hole for the fans. It's not really a risk‑reward, it's too short for that. The fans are going to have some cheers, they're going to have some boos, they're going to have some oohs and awws. I think it's a great hole."
MARK WILSON: “It sort of feels like when you're a teenager and yoou're asking out that girl that you want to say yes to you. I mean, it really feels like that. Your heart starts pounding and you're like why? It's just a pitching wedge or a 9-iron. But you have no bail out on all four sides and the wind is usually whipping and not always in a consistent direction that we can figure out. So that's what makes it really difficult.
“I remember the first time I played it in a practice round. It was that same year where it was blowing and I hit three balls in the water and I'm like, I, I don't want to hit another one. I'm just gonna keep going so I just walked around. And it was a lonely, humbling walk."
STEWART CINK: “It's very nerve-wracking. That's probably not a very exciting answer but it is nerve-wracking because one of the things you sense there is you sense how much the crowd really wants you to mess up. The crowd wants you, wants you, to hit it in the water. They're really hoping for that guy to bounce one over the back or flare it right or something like that, you know? So you feel like you have that working against you. People don't go to sit around that hole to watch guys hit it 15 feet and make birdie. Not at all. So you feel like they've got their claws in you. Like, c'mon, show us something exciting.”
JUSTIN ROSE: “To me, 17 is one of the easiest holes we play all year… on Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday when you’ve got a scorecard in your hands, it ramps up. You feel your heart rate elevate on the tee box, so be prepared for that. The front pin placement, that’s where you’re looking to make birdie. That’s the easiest one to hit a good tee shot and use that slope to get it close. But anything in the back, especially on the right hand side tucked over the bunker, I’m picking a line that’s just on top of the crown and trying to land the ball 13 or 14 yards on the green and playing for something safe in the middle.”
JIMMY WALKER: “It changes as the week goes on, I think. Earlier in the week, it's more just a golf shot. Then you come down to the end of it and it definitely feels like there's more riding on it, especially if you're playing well, I think. So you just try not to put too much into it. It is still just a golf shot. Middle of the green is pretty good. But sometimes it's hard to just hit the middle of the green. You're always out here trying to work it into a flag or something like that. So it's a tough shot. Just one you have to step up and hit it.
“I don't dread it. It's a short shot. If you're hitting a 7-iron or a 6-iron into it, that would be a different story. For me it's usually anywhere from a 9 to a sand wedge -- nothing crazy.”
BRENDAN STEELE: “There’s nothing like it. You can hit a good shot and end up in the water. You can hit a bad shot and get lucky, although that doesn’t happen very often. You get the fans behind who can tell if the ball is on a good line, and you get the fans to the sides who can see whether it’s long or short. You kind of have to listen to both sides to see what’s going on. What a nerve-racking 150-yard hole.”
RICKIE FOWLER: “It’s fun. There are obviously a lot of people around and it really is a big stadium. It’s loud, especially when you’re in contention or close to the lead. Personally, I’d rather be chasing going into that situation.
"On 17, it’s not a long hole, but there really isn’t any room for error. With just a little bit of a mis-hit, you’re swimming and grabbing another ball. It’s as easy to make 2 as it is to make 7.”
PHIL MICKELSON: "Seventeen was a hole that I had always made big numbers and it really kind of knocked me out of the tournament early on. In '07, the year that I did win (THE PLAYERS) for the first time, I changed my approach on 17 entirely to basically hit at the middle of the green and just try to make four pars and not make the big number. It's funny to me because I think, by just aiming at the middle of the green, I think you make more birdies that way than if you fire at the pin. Certainly you make less big numbers, and that's been the key, showing that a little bit more respect for how it can take away two or three shots as opposed to just trying to get back one."
A conservative approach to No. 17 helped Phil Mickelson win the 2007 THE PLAYERS Championship. (Stan Badz/PGATOUR)
What's it feel like to play 17 on a windy day?
MARK WILSON: “The first year I played it was the hardest I remember. I think there were the most balls in the water and I remember hitting 7-iron (most) days. Like it was in and off the left and it just played so difficult. Ever since then it's been a little easier. But you just kind of hope a little bit that it's not going to switch on you and try to hit a low shot into there. But now with the green as firm as it is you don't want to be too low becuase then it's going to bounce over the green. So there's a lot going on.”
JUSTIN ROSE: “That hole gets really tricky when you start to get a wind that’s in off the right or in off the left. For example, if the wind is off the right and you’re trying to hit a little hold shot and you pull it a little bit, it’s gone long and left. That’s when that hole plays the toughest, when the wind is quartering into you from either direction.”
STEWART CINK: “Since they moved it to May, that's less of a factor because it's a hot wind. A hot wind just doesn't seem to mess with the ball quite as much as the old wind used to in March when it could be cold. It's still, of course, can be a very scary shot. You just hope you're hitting it at the right time. It takes a lot of discipline. You have to be willing to stand there and wait a little while and take some time. But your strategy really doesn't change. You're kind of always shooting at the same part of the green. There's a little place in the ridge where everyone's sort of aiming at. You just hope that when you hit and your ball gets up in the air the wind doesn't switch on you.
JIMMY WALKER: “It's usually pretty tough. It's kind of a crapshoot sometimes. I mean, I've hit shots that you think are good and they don't turn out good and you hit one that you don't quite hit the way you want it to and it turns out OK. So it's definitely tough. I remember last year on 17, I got swirled and it went over the green and that was a bummer. I had a really good round going. So it goes both ways there. It's tough.”
BRENDAN STEELE: “The wind is the hardest part. Any sort of indecision or getting the spin wrong into the wind and you’re just done. You’ve got to be really careful.”
RICKIE FOWLER: “Usually you can get a good judge of the wind off of 16 since it’s the complete opposite direction. There are also usually a few flags around the tee and on the cameras and stuff that you can get a gauge from. But sitting down in that bowl, the wind can kind of swirl and change direction a few times.”
Sergio Garcia hits his tee shot in 2008 to the traditional Sunday hole location on the green's far right side. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
What's it feel like to hit to the Sunday hole location?
JIMMY WALKER: “I think it's a game-time decision whether or not you fire at it. I was feeling good last year. I was looking just left of it because just left of it, it kind of kicks down there to the right. You can ride the slope in there. So it's all wind-dependent and how you feel.”
STEWART CINK: “I hit it six inches last year there so that's an easy shot. Next question. No. That just depends on where you are in the tournament. I was like the second, maybe first group off last year. Shot bad on Saturday so I had nothing riding on it. It was a good number for me with whatever club I had. Actually, that was year before because I missed the cut last year. So anyway I just took it right at it and said, ha, let's just hit it. But it's hard to do that when you're in the last couple of groups or you got a lot riding on it. You just have to be prepared to putt from that upper ledge and let it go down that hill. It's a fast putt.”
J.B. HOLMES: "Basically every time you're just trying to hit it over the bunker, and if it rolls to the right, great, and if it doesn't, you take your par and get out of there. A lot of times you'll see somebody go right at it, and most of the time I feel like they pushed it. I might be wrong. You can ask other players, but I would think so. It's kind of funny, because it's such a short hole and if you put land all around it, everybody would be firing at that pin."
What's it feel like to hit from the drop area after hitting your tee shot in the water?
MARK WILSON: “It's one of those where you have a good wedge number but with the two tiers, it makes it tricky. You still have the water right there and if you happen to try to hit a really good wedge close and hit it a little too hard and it goes over or something. So yeah, it's easier than the tee shot, no question, but it's still not a piece of cake because of that tier. If that green would just be one level it would make that hole a whole lot easier.
“You just keep hitting shots. Once you hit it in the water you think I can get it up and down for 4. If you hit another ball in the water, you're thinking I can get it up and down for 6. So I'm never thinking about a big number but it can happen quick. But you can also make 2s there. I had one year when I birdied it Thursday and Friday and made the cut on the number. So it's one of those where you can get some strokes back there as well. That's what's neat about the hole -- you see a wide range of scores.”
STEWART CINK: “It's such an awkward yardage. Usually, the thought going through your mind is what you've seen in the past. You've seen guys hit it over the green from there. You've seen guys leave it short. You really have to apply the tourniquet when you're in that area and hit a good smart shot because it's not an easy one. It's not easy.”
BRENDAN STEELE: “That big number is just looming. You’re really just focusing on not making worse than five. If you can make four, that’s great. It’s a little easier shot since it’s only 75 yards, but you’re still not in a great state of mind.”
JIMMY WALKER: “It's still a tough shot. After you've hit one in I don't think (a big number) really crosses your mind. You've already hit one in and now you're just trying to make bogey. And it's still a tough bogey especially it you're trying to go to that right pin.”
What does it feel like to make the walk from 16 to 17?
JUSTIN ROSE: “You definitely run the gauntlet a little bit there. By the time you get there your anticipation has really built so much because you can hear the hole well before you see it. It’s definitely a place where you have to take a good couple of deep breaths when you get to the tee and really focus on your target.”
BUBBA WATSON: "Walking there, you're trying to check the wind, you're trying to think about the wind, what you've hit before there, where is the flag, are you going to play safe, is the wind favorable for attacking. You're just thinking about the same thing you're thinking on any golf hole. It's nothing different just because there's a lot of water. There's a lot of water on a lot of golf courses."