Did the 17th hole cross the line at TPC Sawgrass on Saturday?

John Craven

Brooks Koepka on 17 at Sawgrass (Photo by Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)

It’s hard to recall the luck of the draw playing out much more than it has this week at The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass.

For those who managed to get their first rounds in before the worst of the weather arrived, it was two days until they took to the course again. However, for those unfortunate enough to be on the other side of the draw, carnage ensued, with bitterly cold and brutal winds wreaking havoc, particularly on Saturday afternoon in Florida.

The famous par-3 17th was responsible for most of the damage with 29 balls finding the water compared to just four over the first two days. Twenty players signed for double-bogeys or worse on the short island green hole but while audiences were captivated by the chaos, questions arose, particularly from The Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee, who felt the weather had exposed a major design flaw in Pete Dye’s signature hole – more Pirate’s Cove than PGA Tour given the luck involved in finding the putting surface on Saturday.


“You were guessing on that tee,” Chamblee argued. “Some players ended up in the water through no fault of their own. You can choose right, hit right and make an eight.

“I would argue that for the premier event of the PGA Tour – I call it a major championship – it is far too capricious an element to have. Great water holes are meant to tempt not torture.

“You could make chipping areas if you extended the front and back of the green some 10 yards [as] on a day like this the hole is too penal and tilts it towards a [a game of] chance rather than chess.

“I don’t just watch sport to be entertained. I watch it to be amazed at the athleticism and talent and I couldn’t tell who was talented and who wasn’t.”

U.S. journalist Kyle Porter pointed out on Twitter that on the same day, Rory McIlroy said he hit 7-iron, which normally goes 185-190 yards, into 17 and it pitched at 123: “[It was] playing 60 yards of wind.”

But as The Island’s Gavin Moynihan hit back, that’s “Ireland golf conditions October-April every year”.

Fortunately, Chamblee wasn’t the only one on the Golf Channel with an opinion during an enjoyable live debate about how 17 was playing on Saturday, with Paul McGinley quick to bite back at Brandel, not having the American’s assessment that the 17th had crossed the line in terms of fairness at the $20 million event.

“This is not a particularly intimidating hole. You have a huge green here, some 4,000 square feet, and it’s only 135 yards,” McGinley said.

“Over the last five years, 80 per cent of players have hit the green. The wind exposed it but that is part of the game and what makes it great.

“Luck is a huge element in professional golf and this was a freak day. We have to accept a freak day. All you can do is be in a state of mind to execute the shot and accept the consequences. If it happens to go in the water, it goes in the water.

“It was gripping TV and you wanted to see what happened with the players. So much skill was required out there.”

There’s no doubt that luck has played its part in the making of this Players Championship leaderboard but the rub of the green has always had a say in the fate of would-be champions.

Where do you stand on the 17th hole debate?

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