Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and the rest of the world’s best gather in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. this weekend for The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass.
Golf’s fifth major, as The Players is often referred, consistently provides one of the most competitive fields on the PGA Tour circuit. It always supplies great theater on Sunday afternoon because of its final stretch of holes, which features one of the most famous par-3s on the PGA Tour — the Island Green 17th.
The 17th hole plays just 136 yards, but it’s among the most treacherous even for the world’s most skilled golfers. Water surrounds the small green on all sides, leaving no room for players to miss safely.
Add in thousands of spectators and the pressure of closing out a win on Sunday, the 17th at TPC Sawgrass presents one of the most nerve-racking tee shots all season on the PGA Tour.
What makes the 17th hole so difficult?
A 136-yard shot is nothing to a professional golfer. In most cases, players can take a simple pitching wedge and plop one 10 feet from the hole without breaking a sweat.
But this isn’t your typical 136-yard shot.
The tee shot on 17 commands a high wedge or iron covering over 100 yards of water and landing softly onto a 3,912 square-foot circle. The average PGA Tour green is 4,500 square feet. When the wind picks up, it becomes even harder to keep the ball on that circle.
The water surrounding the green swallows up over 120,000 golf balls each year from pros and joes.
Former PGA Tour player Mark Calcavecchia summed up the hole best:
“It is like having a 3 o’clock appointment for a root canal. You’re thinking about it all morning and you feel bad all day. You kind of know sooner or later you’ve got to get to it.”Mark Calcavecchia
No other short par 3 on earth gets in professional golfer’s heads like the 17th at TPC Sawgrass does.
Even the best PGA Tour players find the water on the 17th
Seventeen balls found the water on Sunday at last year’s Players, which was the most of any day all weekend. Overall, the water surrounding the Island Green claimed 45 balls last year.
Tiger Woods was even knocked out of contention on Friday by the 17th hole. Woods was in the top 10 and just two shots back of the lead until he hit two balls in the water on 17 to card a quadruple bogey.
The record for most balls in the water came in 2007 when 93 balls found the drink. The highest recorded score on 17 at The Players was a 12. In 2005, Bob Tway hit four balls in the water and 3-putted for a score of nine over par.
The 17th at TPC Sawgrass has also been the home of some memorable Sunday blowups. In 2013, Sergio Garcia stood on the 17th tee box tied for the lead, but he hit two straight wedges short and into the water.
Garcia carded a quadruple-bogey seven and lost the championship to Woods.
For good or bad, the Island Green provides incredible drama
Whether players rise to the occasion or fold under the massive pressure, the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass is a master of drama.
It’s been the site of some of the worst final-round blowups in PGA Tour history, such as Garcia’s blunder in 2013. It’s also been the venue for some players’ finest moments as a professional.
Rickie Fowler‘s biggest win on tour came at The Players, where he birdied the 17th hole three times on Sunday to win in a playoff over Kevin Kisner.
While we don’t know who will rise to the challenge and become the 2020 Players champion this weekend, we do know one thing: the drama at the Island Green on Sunday is unparalleled.
The leaders will step on the 17th tee with sweaty palms and a racing heartbeat on Sunday. Whoever masters the world’s most famous hole will likely be holding the Players trophy a short while after.