The Players Championship. The Fifth Major. OUR Tournament. These names evoke a certain gravitas, and for the most part this event lives up to those nicknames. One tends to remember the big moments of past major championships, but rarely do we remember the crucial moments for events like the Wells Fargo Championship, or the Memorial. The same can’t be said for The Players. From “Better than most” to “Be the right club today!”, the moments and memories we have from this championship are different than any other regular tour event because this championship is valued so highly by the players of the PGA Tour (and partly because of how much money is at stake).
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, the course has been tweaked, and it is now widely regarded as a favorite of the tour pros, and it ranks 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 long by tour standards.
It’s best known for its closing stretch of 16-17-18 (which somehow hasn’t been glossed with a gimmicky nickname). 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 biggest purse on the tour coming down to those 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.
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 it 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 intercoastal waterways. 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 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 a pseudo-NFL franchise plays there). 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 – lucky for them Faldo and the CBS gang are off this week as Faldo’s becoming increasingly vocal in his displeasure with the “MASHED POTATOES!” calls. In that same vein – first class to the bro who yelled “BEEF STROGANOFF” last week after one of J.B. Holmes’ shots. Well played, sir.
Juuuuust a little bit of drama last year. Tiger won at Sawgrass for the first time in 12 years. Tiger and Sergio bickered at each other like an old married couple. Sergio gave us an epic meltdown, as he lit about $800K on fire by going all David Robinson (Quadruple-Double) on the final two holes. He got wet on 17 not once….
Tiger says something pretty emphatically after his tee shot on 18, but I can’t quite make it out:
(All GIF’s courtesy of Adam Sarson, aka the GIF Factory)
Tiger didn’t make the win official until the handshake whiff:
It's not a Tiger win until the failed handshake https://t.co/5s50yQ8hXC
— No Laying Up (@NoLayingUp) April 23, 2014
Check back soon for Part II of our Players Championship Preview, which will include our picks, and our other random takes.