FEAR… that’s the prevailing feeling on the tee of the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium course. It’s said that tour pros are intimidated by only two things – wind and water – and both are abundant in the diabolical creation of Pete and the late Alice Dye.
Golf Digest interviewed almost 50 players, caddies, course architects and commentators to learn the nuances of what makes 125 metres on the scorecard such torture for even the best in the game. Players open up about their insecurities, and most – most – are able to laugh about them. Caddies feel the pressure as well, and not just during the Players Championship, which this year begins on March 14 after a 12-year stay in May. On the Wednesday before the tournament each year, caddies get a swing at 17 in a closest-to-the-pin contest. (Yes, it can get ugly.)
And to think that the concept of one of golf’s most famous par 3s was a bit of serendipity.
From A Hole In The Ground To An Iconic Golf Hole
Alice Dye (in her 2004 autobiography, “From Birdies to Bunkers”): There are many PGA Tour-owned courses now, but this was the first, and the budget was low. Sand was at a premium, but Pete discovered a large deposit near the par-3 17th green site. As he kept digging and hauling sand to other green locations around the course, the ground around the 17th green vanished.
Pete Dye (in his 1994 autobiography, “Bury Me in a Pot Bunker”): I called Alice over to discuss with her where we could find a new place for the green. She said, “Put the green back where it was and fill the hole with water…” At the time I didn’t really think the 17th would be all that difficult, so I sloped the back portion of the green towards the water. Alice told me if I left the green that way, she could envision the television announcers notifying the viewing audience that play in the championship was being held up because 25 threesomes were still waiting on the 17th tee for the lead player to keep his ball on the green! After some thought, I was convinced Alice was right, so the back portion of the green was raised.
Gil Hanse (course architect): The word “iconic” is overused in golf, but to have created such a hole is the aim of every designer.
Bill Coore (course architect): Everyone can envision themselves playing it. It connects the average player with the best in the world.
The Mental Squeeze
Since 2003 at the Players, pros have hit 757 shots into the water at 17 – almost 11 percent of all tee shots – including 93 in 2007, when 50 shots splashed in the first round. The 17th made its debut in 1982, and Jack Nicklaus spoke for many in the early years of the course: “A lot of guys would like to put a bomb under that thing.”
Jerry Kelly: I have voices in my head on every shot, but they might be a little louder on 17. Guys who say they don’t hear that voice have to be lying.
Brendan Steele: You could make a double anywhere on the course, but you could be at 17 all day.
Brad Faxon: I never thought about another par 3 like that, except for 16 at Cypress Point. At least you could lay up there.
Dustin Johnson: I don’t over-think any shot – are you kidding me?
Davis Love III (1992 and 2003 Players champion): I’ll give you the Bob Rotella [sport psychologist] take: if I put a wedge in your hand and told you to hit the middle of a 4,000-square-foot green, would you ever miss the green? No. So, why wouldn’t you just walk up there, pick a target and hit a 9-iron or wedge to the middle of that green?
Jimmy Walker: If it wasn’t an island green, we’d never miss, of course. It’s a gigantic green. The hole is a complete mind screw – so it’s a good hole.
Geoff Ogilvy: In practice, without too much wind, most pros would go 99 out of 100 [hitting the green]. But put a bit of wind into the mix and make it the 71st hole of the Players, and all of a sudden that number goes down a lot. [Before the 2001 Players Championship, Golf Digest asked three golfers to hit 50 shots each at 17. Mark McCumber, the 1988 champion, hit 49 on land and one in the water. A 4-handicapper hit 42 on land and eight in the water, and a 16-handicapper hit 30 on land and 20 in the water.]
Billy Foster (caddie for Matt Fitzpatrick): The best players on the planet stand on the tee shaking like a shitting dog – and it’s only a wedge. It’s amazing what it does to them when you have 10,000 people sitting there jeering and hoping you hit it in.
Geoff Ogilvy: The crowd is very happy to tell you that you didn’t hit the green, or that you’re not going to hit the green. [Laughs.]
Paul Goydos (lost a playoff to Sergio Garcia in 2008 after coming up short at 17): The hardest shot on that hole is the one after you hit into the water.
Geoff Ogilvy: There are a lot of people snickering, and they kinda want you to do it again.
Davis Love III My best 17 memory: my dad and my brother and I were going down there to play when Mark and I were in high school. My dad, very competitive, says, “Whoever loses the most balls has to wash the car.” I know what he thought: these two kids are going to lose five balls each. All the way around, he’s like, “Watch out for the water. Don’t hit it in the water.” We get to 17, and we’re tied. We said, “Whoever hits it in the water here is probably going to lose.” He steps up there and hits it in the water. And my brother and I laughed. We shouldn’t have laughed, but he made the bet. He yelled at us: “It’s your fault I hit it in the water!” Then we played 18 in silence. We got in the car, and he didn’t say another word all the way back home.
Jeff Sluman: The spookiest moment I’ve ever had there came in Q-school in 1982. It was the sixth [final] round, and I was playing late. It was November, and it was cold. I thought Alfred Hitchcock was standing off to the side with dry ice, because there was a mist coming in over the water. You’re thinking, I have GOT to get this ball on the green. And somehow I did. I made my par and was the last guy to get my card. I swear, I think that shot is part of every good and bad dream I ever have about golf.
John Wood (caddie for Matt Kuchar, who previously won the 2012 Players): Bad shots typically come from long talks and indecision. When there’s a lot of back and forth between the caddie and the player, they’re doomed.
Jerry Kelly: It took me a long time to hit one in the water. That only added pressure. It’s better to get it out of the way.
Davis Love III: Some of the old-time designers, a Ross or a Raynor, built some classic par 3s with sand all the way around. Not as intimidating as water.
Disasters (And Near Disasters)
In 1985, Golf Digest sponsored a contest to identify America’s Worst Avid Golfer, with the final to be played at Sawgrass. Angelo Spagnolo, then 31, made a 66 at the 17th – including a three-putt – on his way to “winning” with a 257 for 18 holes. “I was looking across the water,” Spagnolo said of 17, “and it seemed like the English Channel to me.” After a flurry of line drives splashed and seven more bounced over the green into the water, Spagnolo was down to red-striped range balls. He reluctantly agreed when his caddie suggested putting onto the green from the adjoining walkway – “That’s not the way the hole was meant to be played,” Angelo insisted. Spagnolo “took a 66 without a curse”, Golf Digest’s Peter Andrews wrote. “Spagnolo has either the makings of a Christian saint or has the most limited vocabulary of any man who has ever played golf.” Others have shared Angelo’s pain: each year, divers retrieve more than 100,000 balls from the lake.
Bob Tway (on his nine-over par 12 in the third round of the 2005 Players, the worst score at Sawgrass’ 17th in tournament history, beating the 11 by Robert Gamez in 1990): I was watching the Players one year, and of course, they had to mention my catastrophe. It was played in March that year, and the wind was howling left to right about 25 miles per hour. I pulled a 9-iron – it might have even been an 8 – and it hit on the green and one-hopped into the water. So I go to the drop circle thinking a wedge will be a good play with that angle and the pin front left, and I actually hit what I thought were two nice shots, but both hit in the middle of the green just off the slope and spun back into the water. I figure I just have to hit it harder, so I did that – and it landed on top, took one bounce and went into the water, too. Now I’m thinking, Well, what am I supposed to do here? Finally, I get the next one to stay on top. And then I three-putted. That was sort of the final nail. Someone told me later that I went into that hole in sixth place and left it in 66th. [Tway was one-under par on the other 17 holes that day but shot an 80.]
Davis Love III: There was the year  where I took the practice stroke and hit the ball accidentally [but didn’t return it to its original spot]. I signed my scorecard, and they told me I was disqualified [costing Love about $US75,000].
Jeff Sluman: The one year I had a great chance was in 1987, when I had a putt to win in a playoff on that hole. So I’m standing over this five-to-six-footer, and that’s when that guy dove into the water [trying to win a $250 bet] while I’m standing over the ball. I had to step back. Not saying I wouldn’t have missed it anyway, but I was ready to pull the trigger. [Sandy Lyle beat Sluman on the next playoff hole.] The weird thing is that most people thought it was a funny thing. It wasn’t funny for me, but 99 percent of the people thought it was hysterical.
Paul Azinger: I was playing with Brad Faxon at Q-school and hit two balls in the water in the fifth round and ended up making 7. The next day, the final round, the pin was in the front, and it was downwind. I squeeze this thing out there, and it goes all the way to the back of the green. I had my right foot on the wood [surrounding the fringe of the green], and the pin was all the way in the front. Next thing you know, “Better than most”? [Gary Koch’s famous call on Tiger Woods’ 60-foot birdie putt from the fringe in 2001.] Yeah, it went in. I made “better than most” at tour school. I got my card by one shot. I was fixing to three-putt that, and it went in. My entire future was really determined by that hole.
Gary Koch (announcer for NBC/Golf Channel): We’re supposed to be impartial, which we are most of the time, but Len Mattiace was the most heartbreaking [making an 8 with two shots in the water, including one from the bunker, after trailing Justin Leonard by a stroke in the final round in 1998]. His mother was there in a wheelchair, suffering from cancer. And as soon as he pulled out the 9-iron, Johnny [Miller] and I were doubting his choice. Len hit a nice shot, but it was the wrong club.
Russell Knox (on his 9 in 2016, when he hit three balls into the water): I went 3 off the tee, then I went 5 off the tee. [Laughs.] The thought in my head after the second ball drowned was, How many do I have left in my bag?
Is The Hole Fair?
Twenty years ago, Golf Digest course panellists named the 17th the 33rd-best par 3 in America. But is it fair?
Davis Love III: The answer might change from round to round.
Paul Goydos: It’s a good hole, but a modern hole. You’re not going to see it at Dornoch.
Phil Mickelson (2007 Players champion, asked whether the hole is great, good, average or poor): You could say it’s all of the above, and it would be accurate. The average guy can’t play it. For a tour player, it’s probably fair 95 percent of the time, depending on how firm the green is. [Since 2003, the scoring average of 3.12 in the Players Championship makes it the seventh most difficult hole.]
Rocco Mediate: I lived there for 17 years and probably have played the course more than any human being. It’s an amazing golf hole. The green has more square footage than any other hole on the golf course, but if it’s firm and the wind gets to blowing, then it’s a tiny target. There is nothing stupid about the hole, with the exception of a few years when they shaved the fringe area down to nothing – any spin on the ball, and there was nothing stopping it. That was just dumb.
Steve Flesch: There’s nothing unfair about it at all. It’s a wedge shot. The green is huge. The bailout is the middle of the green. It’s a wedge. The guys who hit it in the water are taking a chance, asking for trouble. If you play for the middle of the green, you won’t be in the water. I’ll say it again: it’s a wedge.
Pat Perez: The punishment fits the crime. If you miss, you should get screwed.
Rickie Fowler (2015 Players champion): The most it might play is around 150 [yards] if the tee is back and the pin is back, but that’s still a wedge. That’s a reasonable shot.
David Toms: If you want to consider yourself a fifth Major, there’s too much luck attached. How much wind you catch, for example. What if you’re between clubs all week, and someone else is right on the number? It’s too random because of where it is and what it is.
Davis Love III: I love the hole. I love the whole golf course, and I used to hate it. There’s so much strategy to Pete’s courses, but once you understand it and ignore the distractions, you tend to accept what it is.
Geoff Ogilvy: If the green was too small, it would have been stupid, a disaster. If the green was too big, it would be too easy, just another hole. But he got it right, even with how much longer we hit the ball now compared with 40 years ago. We don’t hit 9-irons that much farther.
Mark Calcavecchia: I have my doubts about someone hitting a perfectly good shot and one-hopping over the green. That’s a pretty rugged way to end a tournament.
Francesco Molinari: I’d like an eight-shot lead to feel comfortable – I’m not joking. But I guess four shots would be OK. Even after a 5 on 17, you can easily play for a 5 on the last: 5-iron off the tee, then another, then a wedge.
Martin Kaymer (2014 Players champion): It’s 10 out of 10. There should not be any bailouts. You need to be very brave. That’s how golf should be.
Jeff Sluman: You’re supposed to be able to control your emotions and the flight of your ball. You’re a professional.
Padraig Harrington: Should you ever design a hole like the 17th? Probably not. Most island holes are terrible. But this one, because of the tournament and its history, is great.
Jim Furyk: The back portion of that green gets brown way before that front left or right side of the green, because they sit lower. You’re almost forced to aim at that pin in back on Sunday, at times. And that’s not easy when you’re staring at this brown, shiny patch.
Ben Crenshaw: That front bunker [which catches just more than 1 percent of the tee shots] is a saviour and a great feature that’s probably not appreciated from a design standpoint. You’d take that bunker all day compared to the water.
Luke Donald: I don’t mind the bunker, but the funky slope is an issue. We saw it [in 2018] with Rory. His ball hit the face of the bank and spun back into the water [the double-bogey leading to a missed cut]. If you get the ball on dry land, it should stay there – other than bouncing over the green.
Guy Tilston (caddie for Oliver Fisher): The one that topples over the back deserves more than a trip to the drop zone.
Brad Faxon: Back in Q-school, the green was red-lined [as a lateral hazard], so players could hit over the green and putt for par.
Rocco Mediate: One of the weirdest things for me was back in the first few years, that walkway on the back part of the green was sand, and I got it up and down from there once or twice. Try hitting it there. Sand save. That’s freaky.
Geoff Ogilvy: There are lots of par 3s we play in major events – especially at the Open Championship – where the greens are much smaller. So even though it’s basically surrounded by water, the 17th is a very reasonable target from that distance. Having said that, it is a little absurd that a guy can miss a shot by so little and be basically guaranteed to make a double-bogey. That, on the 71st hole of the tour’s biggest event, is a bit unfair. But you shouldn’t be able to limp into the clubhouse and win the Players Championship.
Rickie Fowler: I like the hole. I don’t love it.
Dustin Johnson: Not my favourite hole.
Mark Futcher (caddie for Justin Rose): People say it would be easier if it were surrounded by sand. Of course it would be. But in the context of the tournament, it’s perfect.
Paul Azinger: I birdied it four days in a row [in 1987, matched only by Kyle Stanley in 2017], so that was memorable.
Jason Dufner: It’s a pretty easy hole for me. I’ve never hit it in the water there, knock on wood – 36 in a row.
Rickie Fowler (who birdied the hole three times on Sunday, including twice in the playoff, to win the 2015 Players): Same club every time: gap wedge. The only thing that was different is that the wind changed all three times. Three 2s there in one day… that might never be duplicated.
Paul Azinger (aced the 17th in 2000, one of eight holes-in-one there in Players history): It looked good all the way, but all I was worried about as I walked towards the green was the way I was walking. I felt so alone. I’m thinking, Do I have a normal walk? What do I look like? All these fans are cheering. It’s the longest walk I’ve ever had with all those eyes on me and everyone going crazy. Isn’t that ridiculous? I got a plaque from the tour, one of those little wooden plaques. It’s got the green designed on it, like it
came from a club. It’s actually kind of cool.
Gary Koch: The best moment for me has to be the “better than most” call I made on Tiger’s putt in 2001. It was great putt, and the call has lasted for a long time. But if you go back and listen to the whole scenario, we set it up beautifully. We went to commercial right as Tiger left the tee. I told our producer that everyone who had putted from where he was had sent the ball off the green. That’s how difficult it was.
Each year before the tournament, caddies compete with one shot at 17. The caddie with the shot closest to the pin wins a pot donated by players – about $US5,000, according to two caddies. The tour matches the total for the Bruce Edwards Foundation and gives the winner a money clip with his name engraved on it and a designated spot in the players’ car park. Two years ago, Mark Urbanek, caddie for James Hahn, threw a ball onto the green during the competition, but the results aren’t always that pretty when club meets ball.
Colin Byrne (caddie for Rafa Cabrera Bello): I’ve seen a lot of nervous caddies. They have trouble getting the tee in the ground.
Jimmy Johnson (caddie for Justin Thomas): It’s a nightmare to play it. And I used to be a pro.
Billy Foster: I play maybe six times a year. I’ve caddied for 16 holes. My palms are sweaty. My spine is like an old accordion. And there are maybe 4,000 people watching. Is it any wonder I’ve hit some bloody awful shots? [Laughs.]
Ted Scott (caddie for Bubba Watson): The year I remember best is when we played a practice round with Tiger and Jim Furyk. It started raining, a light rain. Bubba, obviously, is left-handed, so I can’t use his clubs. Fluff [Cowan] hit. Stevie [Williams] hit. They’re looking at me, but I can’t hit Bubba’s clubs. So Tiger gives me his 9-iron. His grip was the smallest grip I’ve ever held, and I had no glove. So all I was thinking was, Oh, gosh, I’m about to throw this club in the water. I hit it solid, but I didn’t release it because I was afraid it was going to fly out of my hands. It started five feet right of the island and never moved. Tiger said, “Good swing!” I was like, Whatever – I was just happy to still have the club.
John Wood: One year I was caddieing for Kevin Sutherland, and he told me to hit a wedge. And I put a great swing on it. It flew right over the flagstick and hit about 10 feet from the back edge and stopped on the fringe. Kevin couldn’t believe I hit a wedge that far. I had to tell him I didn’t – that I had snuck back to get a 9-iron.
Damon Green (caddie for Ollie Schniederjans and winner of more than 70 mini-tour events as a player): Closest I ever hit it is about 12 feet. When I was caddieing for Scott Hoch, I would forecaddie on the par 5 [16th], and we’d start swinging at some old balls out of the trees to loosen up. One year, I took a big divot out of the rough – this huge, muddy divot – and it hit a spectator right in the chest. Just splat. I had to stop after that.
Ian Finnis (caddie for Tommy Fleetwood): In 2017, I won the nearest to the pin. Then [in 2018] I hit possibly the worst shot of my life. [Laughs.] I got sucked in by all the commotion and hit a semi-shank. When I won, I hit it to six feet. Tommy had said to me, “If you hit it inside nine feet, I’ll carry the bag.” So he did. He still owes me one hole, actually. On the 16th at the Masters, he was doing the skimming thing [skipping a ball across the pond]. Couldn’t do it. A guy shouted out, “Your caddie would have done better!” So I had a go and skimmed it to three feet. Winning nearest to the pin at 17 backfired a little. Walking to the green after my shot, I was telling Tommy how easy it was. Just joking. But that week he hit it in the water twice, and nearly a third time. I got in his head. Then [in 2018] he was able to give me grief all week about my awful shot. And he made 2 and never missed the green. He got a bit cocky: “Can’t be that hard.”
Mark Futcher: My performances have been so dreadful. So I’ve retired – disgracefully.
Anticipation And Anguish
Rocco Mediate: Every damn shot on that golf course seems like it can destroy you, so you better be paying attention. I didn’t have enough time to worry about 17. We all get anxiety attacks, but the worst part for any tournament player is the waiting for the round to start. Once you start playing, you’re nervous, but you settle in.
Zach Johnson: What professional would think about it at the beginning of the round? You have enough to think about before then.
Colin Byrne: We all take a look when we come ’round the corner on 16. There it is, winking at you.
Mark Futcher: The walk from the 16th green is huge. It’s just long enough to see the tee, the green and what’s going on. If you went straight off the 16th green to the tee, it wouldn’t be so bad, but it gives you time to think. And often as not, there’s a group on the tee, too, so you have to wait.
Tom Lehman: I’d get the yardage five times.
Devising A Strategy
Geoff Ogilvy: It’s about making a simple par. That is success. A birdie is a bonus.
Gary Koch: Some guys do think it’s a birdie hole, but these guys think differently from my generation.
Rickie Fowler: Man up and hit it.
Gil Hanse: Put a short iron in the hands of professionals, and they can’t help themselves – they just can’t aim away from the flag.
Charles Howell III: I’ve hit my fair share into the water. I quit looking at the flag a couple of years ago.
Kenny Perry: My thought was always just to make a smooth swing. It was easy to get too quick because of the adrenaline.
Geoff Ogilvy: I actually under-think it. It’s a self-preservation thing, one that helps me under severe pressure. I don’t rush, but I try to pick the right club quickly, be happy with it, and get it into my head that all I have to do is walk up and hit. It’s, say, 145 to the middle of the green: it’s a 9-iron. Go.
Lee Westwood: The first time I played there, in 1998, I played a practice round with Nick Price. He told me just to hit it at the mound in the middle of the green every day and make 3. So that’s what I’ve done ever since. Which is why I haven’t made many 2s.
Davis Love III: My strategy was always: take the club that could get it to the front yardage and hit it hard. I knew I wouldn’t hit it over.
Zach Johnson: You have your minimum carry number and your maximum carry number, and it depends where the pin is and what the wind is, and you adjust. There’s about a 10-yard area where I’m trying to land it.
Geoff Ogilvy: There are three separate sections to the green. There’s the front, which is where Tiger holed the “better than most” putt. There’s the top/middle, which is the biggest. And there’s back right. No one really goes for that pin.
Jim Furyk: That green is about 27 paces deep, but you can eliminate the last six steps. You hit it there, you’re going over the green.
Paul Goydos: I had ideas for all the pins, even the back right. If I can’t hit a 9-iron or wedge 15 feet left of that pin, what was I doing out there?
Geoff Ogilvy: Very few guys find the water left or right. Most go long or short. It seems like when guys miss, they miss long. It lands too high on the middle section and takes a big bounce.
Gary Koch: Now I’m seeing more balls coming up short. All that corporate-hospitality stuff on the hill tends to block the wind. The guys look up high and see the flags blowing. Tiger [in 2018] came up 12 yards short of where it needed to be. [In his autobiography, Pete Dye provided a clue to reading the wind at 17: “If the water near the green is smooth, the prevailing wind is against the golfers, but if the water is choppy, they have the wind at their back.”]
Re-Tee Or Go To The Drop Zone?
Fred Couples, the 1984 and 1996 Players champion, aced the 17th in 1997, and in 1999 he holed out his third shot on the fly from the tee for par after hitting his previous shot into the water. Players and caddies still debate what’s the best approach after splashing a shot off the tee.
Mark Calcavecchia: I always went to the drop zone. If you keep hitting from the tee, you could make anything.
Jimmy Walker: I’ve never practised from the drop zone. If you do that, I have to think your head is in the wrong spot.
Mark Futcher: I’ve never seen a player practise from the drop zone. If a caddie asked a player to do that, he probably wouldn’t be in a job come Thursday.
Luke Donald: That 70-yarder can be dicey, especially off a tight lie. So I can see why people would want it on a tee.
Rocco Mediate: You could pitch it in the lake all day from the drop zone.
Location, Location, Location
Adam Scott (2004 Players champion): Would it be as memorable if it came on the front nine somewhere? Of course not. It belongs exactly where it is.
Gary Koch: Now that they’ve gone to an aggregate playoff, I’m OK with using the 17th. When they started there, it was too random.
How The Hole Will Change With The Tournament Back In March
Rocco Mediate: I can’t wait for them to have a day where it’s 45 degrees [Fahrenheit] and blowing. Then we’ll see who’s got some nerves. And if it’s hard as a brick on top of it, that could be a nightmare.
Jerry Kelly: I hit a 5-iron there one year in March. If you think a lot of balls drown when they hit wedges, just wait.
Lee Westwood: I remember hitting a 5-iron. No fun.
Jimmy Walker: I think it’s about to become a really good hole again.
What Would You Change?
Steve Flesch: I’d add one more tee 10 to 15 yards back, make them play one more club. I think maybe it’s too short.
Rocco Mediate: Some of us used to go up on the top of the hill, way back, and hit 4-irons into that green. You talk about a hard shot. Do that in the tournament, and guys would make 50s. But if you hit the green from back there, probably 195 yards, you felt like a god.
Brendan Steele: You could mix it up, and one day you could almost play from the drop zone to the back right. Or build a tee that goes back on that line. That would be interesting.
Gil Hanse: I’m not sure about the little pot bunker. It might be a little much. I’ve never discussed the hole with the Dyes, but I’d be curious as to why they felt compelled to add that. Was it just a little visual exclamation point? Or was it something to give players hope that a miss might stay dry?
Brad Faxon: Not sure I would change anything. It’s working.
Should There Be More Holes Like 17?
Geoff Ogilvy: Not really. The only other island green we play is the 17th on the Stadium course at PGA West in La Quinta [also designed by Pete Dye]. That doesn’t work as well because it’s so much longer. And it’s downhill. It’s a much more difficult shot, on a whole different level from Sawgrass. It’s too long and too severe.
Ron Whitten (Golf Digest Senior Editor/Architecture): The most impressive replica is at Eagle Eye Golf Club in Bath, Michigan, designed and built by Chris Lutzke, his first solo design after a dozen years constructing courses for Pete. With Pete’s permission, the entire hole at Sawgrass was laser-scanned, and
Lutzke used the digital data to plot out the replica hole. It’s literally a clone.
Final Advice For Amateurs
Jerry Kelly: Have another ball ready.
The Long Walk To 17
by Paul Tesori ▶
I’ve been on Webb Simpson’s bag for eight years now. Last May was a career highlight when we won the Players Championship. In doing so, we had to survive the famous island-green 17th. After birdieing 16 on Sunday, our lead was six, but it wasn’t time to exhale yet. We saw two days earlier what can happen on 17: in a tricky wind, Webb backed off his tee shot twice before clanking one off the bulkhead and into the water. We were able to sneak off with a double-bogey – on a day when we were an incredible 11-under through 16 holes!
Making the walk to 17 tee on Sunday, my goal was to make sure Webb got a mental break. I had a plan. I call it “premeditated sports talk”. Webber and I love sports, and when we get going on games or players, it gives us off-time from golf. So with 10,000 amped-up fans waiting on 17, I said to Webb, “I think the Rockets are gonna beat the Warriors, and here’s why.” I took the underdog, and Webb jumped right in: “Are you kidding me? Golden State has too many superstars.” We went on like this all the way to the tee. Webb thought I had lost my mind. It was all basketball, no golf. Mission accomplished.
Before the round, I’d gotten the exact yardage on 17: we wanted to fly it 133 yards. The wind was out of the right, a little hurting. That’s a hard gap wedge for Webb, and that’s what we’d practised on the range four hours earlier. (It’s nice when there are no surprises.) Webb was decisive, so I just gave him my standard send-off: “Be fully committed.”
He hit a good shot into the slope on the left side of the green, leaving 55 feet to the back-right hole. I’ll admit when I was holding the pin, with the bulkhead 12 feet behind me, I thought, Just don’t putt it in the water. That green is so fast, the ball did trickle all the way to the fringe. Exhale. Webb made the 10-footer, and 15 minutes later we were celebrating.
– with Peter Morrice