MY LEAST favourite tournament is The Players Championship. Ask around the locker room, and you’ll find some guys with the same answer. This might surprise you, given the money – the $AU2.3 million first prize and $13.5 million purse are tied with the US PGA Championship for the biggest dollars we play for. But a slightly more lucrative T20 or T40 doesn’t change the vibe. For me, that week at TPC Sawgrass is a guaranteed bad mood.
I’m a fan of firm and fast, but at TPC Sawgrass they bake out the fairways so much it’s Mickey Mouse. If your ball lands on the front-right fringe at 18, there’s a good chance it’ll kick all the way into the water over the green, which is just ridiculous.
The course plays completely different the other 50 weeks a year. When I play there outside of the event, I always move up two sets of tees so I can practice hitting the same irons into greens. But the setup is only the start. The main problem is, it’s the office. US PGA Tour headquarters is right there in Ponte Vedra Beach, so it’s like you have 300 people running around who all think they’re your boss. And the golfers aren’t the only ones who feel this. Last year I was hitting balls on the range, and in the span of 40 minutes I witnessed three different suits tell the same assistant superintendent to rearrange the practice area three different ways. Our tour is a bureaucracy like any big organisation. People who are overpaid and under-worked try to assert power in pointless ways. And The Players is a major for it.
I’ve made more than $7 million. Frankly, I don’t really have the looks or personality, or desire, to supplement my income with lots of off-course activities. The US PGA Tour does an amazing job of providing a system that allows anybody who’s good enough to compete. If you shoot low scores, there’s no way they can keep you out. It’s just that if you’re not one of the top-30 guys, sometimes it feels like you’re playing under different rules. Preferential treatment makes for bad feelings in any line of work. Because all the faces are there that week at The Players, you’re reminded of all the bad things.
I was once told I couldn’t practise on the range when I’d withdrawn from a pro-am. I’d hurt my back stepping in a hole and had limped to the range to see if I could even swing.
“Looks like you’re hitting it pretty good to me,” this official tells me. He radios another guy, who’s just as snide, and pretty soon a big deal develops. I’ll play in 28 pro-ams a year. The one time I miss, they try to embarrass me in front of everybody. That no one can skip pro-ams is supposed to be this hard rule, but the stars get out of them all the time.
When I was a rookie, I was paired with a Masters champion on a weekend. We were putting out on 16 as the group ahead finished their round. I’m running down the 17th fairway. Mr Green Jacket is taking his time, as he’d been all day. I’m like, “Come on, man, I cannot afford a $20,000 fine.” The guy’s like, “We’re fine. If an official comes over, I’ll take care of it.”
My group once got dinged for slow play when we were actually under the time limit. We appealed, and in the end the error was admitted, and we didn’t have to pay anything. If you’re top-30, you don’t get these sorts of headaches. How does Jim Furyk avoid 10 slow-play fines every year?
Drug testing and medical leaves of absence? Don’t even get me started. I’ve got more stories than can fit in this column.
But I promise you this: If I ever win The Players, I’ll tell a few more when they hand me the trophy and the microphone.