The Players Championship, golf’s fifth major. A veritable supermarket sweep where guys run around Sawgrass trying to stuff as much cash, OWGR points, and exemptions into their shopping carts as possible. While the tournament does carry extra cachet above ‘normal’ tour stops, it’s an entirely nouveau riche, decadent tinge that looks kinda tacky stacked up next to golf’s naturally beautiful, actual majors (the exception, of course, being the PGA Championship, essentially the bizzaro Players). In the somewhat crude parlance of one Tron Carter, the essence of the Players is analogous to a nice, overt set of fake hooters–and all the connotations, fair and unfair, they carry.
What’s always been the most peculiar aspect of the Players is the juxtaposition between how damned difficult the course is, and how damned noner some of the past champions have been. Two-time Players champ (and, perhaps not coincidentally, PGA champion) Steve Elkington recently called TPC Sawgrass the toughest test of skill in golf:
It was toughest skill test…I’ll say that https://t.co/7OmmYY0GWK
— Steve Elkington (@elkpga) May 6, 2015
Yet despite the ultra-stern test, the Players, unlike other majors, has yielded some absolutely bonafide No-fly champions. Not sure about y’all, but I’m not ready to confer major status upon any tournament won by the #LPCP Ace of Spades, Matt Kuchar. (Good guy, though).
I’d be remiss, however, not to mention the aspect of the Players which most closely does resemble a major championship: big moments of tournaments past have carved out a place within our collective psyche. From “Better than most” to “Be the right club today!”, these memories stand out, unlike any other regular tour event. In the end, I guess, I’d like it if we stopped pretending the Players was super-important for anything other than the sheer fact it offers a cornucopia of career-making treats for the winner. If Finchem and the boys so desired, they could bestow the same ‘prestige’ upon the Northern Trust at Riviera (an actual baller track), or the Wells Fargo at Quail Hollow (same), and thus relegate the stop at Sawgrass to more or less just another week on tour.
TPC Sawgrass – Stadium Course
Pete Dye’s Ponte Vedra Beach creation has been the site of The Players Championship since 1982. Like all of the TPC courses, it’s a bit cookie cutter, and it’s been met with a lot of criticism in the past. After it was built, Ben Crenshaw said it was “Star Wars golf, designed by Darth Vader.” Jack Nicklaus was not a fan, saying, “I’ve never been a fan of stopping a five iron on the hood of a car.” Over the years, as the course has been tweaked, it has found more favor among tour pros, ranking as the 11th best course on tour by the players.
TPC Sawgrass was a groundbreaking design for tournament golf, as it was the first course ever designed where spectator viewing was prioritized in the layout, giving way to it being named the Stadium Course. What was also unique was that nearly all tournaments at the time were held at private clubs that were not accessible to the average fan. TPC Sawgrass gave fans the chance to play a course that the tour pros play, and it was designed with both the average player, and the tour player in mind. The layout does not favor any certain type of player, and at 7,200 yards, it’s not necessarily long by tour standards.
It’s best known for the closing stretch of 16-17-18. The 16th is a reachable par 5 for everyone in the field, but guarded by the huge pond that surrounds the famous island green 17th. The dynamic of 16 and 17 is comparable only to maybe 15 and 16 at Augusta National. The holes are very close together, and it is impossible to not be aware of what is going on at the neighboring hole. With the such a big purse coming down to these nerve racking shots, it’s almost impossible not to have a dramatic finish come Sunday. There’s a hill that sits between the 17th and 18th that makes it feel separate from corporate scene on the 17th, but the finishing hole is another stern test of it’s own, with water waiting left on both the tee shot, and the approach.
This is a course the whole way through which demands precision. As I heard my man Mark Carnevale mention on radio, Sawgrass is a place best scouted out from green to tee, instead of vice versa. Depending on pin positions, certain spots, even in the fairway, are less than ideal for approach shots. All-in-all, it’ll demand a superior four days of golfing one’s ball. Period. Point blank.
Ponte Vedra Beach is the official home of the PGA Tour, and is considered a “community” rather than an actual city. About 20 miles southwest of the town that Tim Tebow built, it is best known for its golf affiliation, and plays home to several PGA Tour players. Much like TPC Sawgrass itself, the town was built on a huge pile of cash around a lot of swampland and inter-coastal waterways. That CNN’s Best Places to Live placed Ponte Vedra at #50 is not a surprise considering the location, the golf community, and the economic environment.
Just up the road, Jacksonville is essentially Florida’s East Coast answer to Tampa, minus the next level strip club game (if you missed it, we went IN on Tampa in our Valspar Championship preview – most of the same stuff applies to Jax as well). It’s the 12th most populous city in the entire country, due largely to the fact that it’s the largest city in terms of land area in the country (874 square miles! To put that in perspective, Los Angeles is like 500 square miles). Infecting the vibe of the downtown area is the eyesore that is EverBank field, which plays host to the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party every year (and also the pseudo-NFL Jaguar franchise). This tells you everything you need to know about JVille – when the Super Bowl comes to town, every football writer bitches and moans about how boring JVille is – these are the same dudes who were RAVING about Indianapolis a few years ago.
As for the vibe around the Stadium Course this week, it’ll be exceedingly live. The plebeians show up en masse, congregate around 17 like it’s the Coliseum, imbibe copious amounts of malt beverage, and cheer for native-Floridian Matt Kuchar like they cheered for Commodus. The Florida frat bro contingent will make their presence felt, most likely bombing the telecast with such post-launch gems as: “MASHED POTATOES!”, “BEEF STROGANOFF!”, and “CALL THE POLICE, THAT BALL’S MURDERED!” (I made that last one up, but for real, be on fullest alert for some awesome calls this year).
Kaymer gave us a little preview of his US Open tour de force, while many were left openly wondering whether 20-year-old Jordan Spieth in fact lacked pop and could not play. Also, Sergio did his regular compete-but-not-really-compete thing, which is both spectacular and heart-wrenching.
(all lines courtesy Ladbrokes.com, the Official Bookmaker of NoLayingUp.com)
Y’all know who the horses are, so I’ll just offer up a few value fliers I like.
Paul Casey (40/1) – #bombthreat status week in and week out. Has sandwiched a couple top-10’s around his T6 at Augusta over his last three starts. Is all the way back from a stint in the wilderness and will win soon. Don’t miss out.
Kevin Na (66/1) – Good Sawgrass history (minus the disaster down the stretch in 2012) coupled again with fine recent form. A win at a tournament like this is the next logical step for perhaps the most interesting guy in the game. He’s gonna slay the dragon and be on the next Ryder Cup squad too. Book it.
Charley Hoffman (100/1) – Ski mask alert! Has a win and a runner-up already this year. Showed out at Augusta (T9), denting his rig just a bit coming home Sunday. Great ballstriker in the midst of a big season. Odds too high for form.
Daniel Summerhays (150/1) – Has a T26 and T23 the last two years at the Players. Makes a ton of cuts (13/15 this year). Just needs to get hot on the weekend to have a look down the stretch.
- That Spieth-McIlroy-Day group! (Jesus! Leaning back)
- Feel bad for the Big Cat having broken things off with Lindsey. Genuinely hope he can find what he’s looking for off the course. He seems to be making a real effort to act like a real human being, finally, which is both commendable and vastly entertaining. I dare you not to watch this week’s Players presser and not laugh as he efforts real human emotions. It’s like his operating system is almost there, but that last 1% gap between A.I. and Human might as well be an infinite gap. Nonetheless, his press hits are appointment viewing, replete with insidery, next-level golf jargon, copious buzzwords, a corny joke or three, and really forced human emotions.
- Saw today that PGATour.com was advertising their periscope account, which is deliciously rich coming off the de-credentialing of Stephanie Wei last week for using the app. Alan Shipnuck provided a nice summary of the fiasco here. He chased that column with some tasty haymakers at the Tour on Twitter this week, basically calling for Finchem to serve as a glorified Ranger Rick out on the course, cleaning restrooms and stuff. I don’t ask for much, but an all-out Shipnuck v. Tour Suits brewhaha would be at the top of my wishlist. I have my fingers crossed.
- We’re in a pretty girthy part of the Tour schedule right. Harbour Town-Harding Park-Sawgrass-Quail Hollow-Colonial-Muirfield is a really nice 6 of 8 week stretch post-Masters.
- We’re contractually obligated to mention this–if you haven’t done so already, peep a replay of the 1994 Players – Norman’s performance was spectacular, the outfits were prime, and the scores were DEEP. Here’s a rundown.
- NBC on the coverage this week – cue up Rog & Johnny having a three hour long convo about where the “fall line” is and whether so-and-so just hit a “trap draw.” This should get you caught back up.