- Is the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass really that difficult? Here's a look at the iconic island green from the Players Championship.
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — It’s far from the most difficult golf hole in the world, but it might be the most famous.
The iconic island green par-3 17th at TPC Sawgrass is, at the very least, on the elite shortlist of golf’s most prominent one-shotters. There’s the picturesque 12th at Augusta, the raucous 16th at TPC Scottsdale (which, during the Waste Management Open, more resembles a frat party than a golf hole), the short-but-stunning 7th at Pebble Beach.
And then there’s this, the 137-yard second-to-last hole at the world’s fifth biggest golf tournament: the Players Championship.
Of course, the defining characteristic of the is the “island” green—it’s not an island by the dictionary’s definition of the word, as the putting surface is connected to other dry land by a narrow strip of land—but its place on the golf course cannot be discounted when assessing its influence. Someone will, in all likelihood, come to 17 needing to hit the 78-foot long green to secure the “fifth major.”
I spent Friday afternoon of this year’s Players on 17, mingling with spectators, baking in the 90-degree Northeast Florida heat and, of course, watching golf shots. Here’s what I saw.
The green is smaller than I anticipated
There’s this notion floating around the golf world that the actual golf shot at 17 isn’t that difficult. It’s a wedge for the professionals, after all, and the green is pretty big. Having heard this time and time again, I expected the green to be much bigger than it actually is. It’s not that easy of a shot, particularly when the wind is up and when they put the pin anywhere but where it was on Friday. It’s no coincidence that something like 60 balls are splashed by the best players in the world each and every year.
A generally dry day, but 17 showed its teeth in the biggest of moments
The pin was in the middle of the green just over a ridge, by all accounts the easiest placement of the week, so it wasn’t exactly a water-ball fest on Friday. But the 17th reared its teeth during the biggest moment of the day. Webb Simpson came to 17 having made six straight birdies and was a ridiculous 11 under for his round. He needed to play the final two holes in just one over to break the course record, which meant finding dry land at 17 likely would have done the trick.
He didn’t find dry land. Simpson’s tee shot landed on the wooden outline short and right of the bunker, then bounced to the back of the green before rolling into the water. He would make a double-bogey 5, and his quest for an unmatched Sawgrass round was all but ended. Simpson ended up equaling the course record with a 63, which is still an incredible round, and he’ll take a five-shot lead into the weekend at 15 under. But he’ll regret that tee shot on 17 for a long time.
It’s halfway between 12 at Augusta and 16 at Scottsdale in terms of atmosphere
The 12th at Augusta is the most serene par 3 on the PGA Tour, by far. Fans—no, patrons—literally aren’t allowed anywhere near the green, which leads to a unique visual of the final group in a major putting in front of…nobody.
On the other end of the spectrum is the 16th at TPC Scottsdale during the Waste Management Open, which is like nothing else on the PGA Tour. Fans boo poor shots (and not so poor ones that they deem unsatisfactory), shotgun beers and sneak off into the bathroom to do naughty things.
The 17th at TPC Sawgrass is somewhere in between. It’s never quite silent while players hit, as fans soak in the sun while sipping on adult drinks on the adjacent hillside. A good shot is rewarded by hearty applause, while a bad one is greeted by disappointed-but-not-disdainful groans. The gallery strikes the perfect balance between spring break fun and golf-approved etiquette.
The best quotes of the day
“This shot just looks so f---ing easy,” says a college fraternity brother wearing his letters.
“Son, when the ball gets into the air, scream ‘Dilly Dilly,’” says a 30-something dad with a dip packed to his toddler son.
“I just love the game. I played 250 rounds last year,” a wildly friendly Arkansan tells me unprovoked.