One-hundred and 36 yards. That was the actual yardage for the par three 17th hole during the final round of the 2019 Players Championship.
It’s a distance that makes PGA Tour pros drool. Ordinarily, a wedge or a 9-iron will do the trick.
Of course, when it comes to the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass, there’s absolutely nothing ordinary about the island green. Surrounded by water, and encompassed by swirling winds, the simple on the surface tee shot has produced pounds of carnage over the years at The Players Championship.
In 2019, 45 balls found the water at No. 17. In 2007, 93 balls swam with the fish. Since 2003, 802 balls struck by professionals have found the bottom of the pond that surrounds the 17th hole.
To understand what goes on inside the mind of the best golfers in the world at on this particular hole, SI.com caught up with a few PGA Tour pros who have stepped into the gauntlet.
When it comes to the 17th hole, is the challenge more mental or technical for you?
Adam Hadwin: Oh, it's definitely more mental. It's in your head when you’re walking on 16. You see it on the right side. If you’re having a tough day, you probably start thinking about it a little bit earlier in the round, knowing it’s coming up.
Andrew Landry: I think it’s a little bit of both. In your mind you kind of mentally think "don't hit in the water" because you know, there's thousands of people there. It’s definitely different. I think it’s a little bit of both, mental and physical
Kevin Na: With no wind, it's all mental.
SI: When do you start thinking about the 17th hole?
Xander Schauffele: It sort of depends on where you’re at in your round, whether you started on one or on 10. You tend to be more anxious if you’re finishing your round and you’re on 17. It’s definitely in the back of our heads, especially if you are in the hunt. If you are chasing the lead it could be an easy hole.
Landry: Once you kind of step off to about 150 yards out on No. 16, and you can start seeing the people and seeing the hole, you think of all the memories that were made there. From guys knocking it in the water to Tiger’s “Better than most” putt. You think about all of the great moments at The Players Championship and it’s really cool.
Kevin Tway: You think about it all the time, actually. It’s always in the back of your mind.
Na: I think you start thinking about 17 way before you tee it up. It’s such an iconic hole and it can make or ruin your day. You could be playing halfway decent, say 1-under par, coming off a birdie at No. 16 and if you hit a great shot at 17 and birdie the hole you shoot something in the 60s. You can also easily be 3- or 4-under par and put one in the water and make a five and it ruins your day.
Do you get nervous over the tee shot on 17?
JJ Spaun: The walk during 16 fairway you can see everything and everyone and there’s a lot of hype and there’s no hiding it. You just kind of have to embrace it. I was nervous the first time, but once I hit my first shot there it settled me down.
Schauffele: You expect to be nervous. I just take a couple of extra breaths, maybe try to have a laugh with my caddy and hit a good shot.
Tway: It’s only a wedge. I’ve hit a lot of wedges on the green so I should be able to do it, but you definitely get a little nervous.
How about the shot itself? It's 125-145 yards. Is it a simple shot?
Tom Hoge: It’s a pretty easy shot with nobody in the stands and with no pressure on you, but that all changes when balls in the water matter. One poor shot could be so costly. Middle of the green looks pretty good on 17.
Hadwin: It’s a pretty straightforward golf shot. You know, if it wasn't surrounded by water you'd be aiming at the flag every single time. But you throw those hazards in there and the wind and the crowd and knowing it could decide the tournament. All those factors add in, and you've got to refocus. It is really only a 9-iron, most of the time. If you can find land and two putt and get away with a par four days in a row, you'll probably gain some strokes on the field.
Landry: I think the wind directions get a little swirly down in that little bowl because of the grandstands. It's definitely not easy. You get a little different vibe whenever the wind is up. You really don’t know what it’s going to do.
Na: The green actually plays a lot smaller than it looks. And with the wind it can be difficult. Some crosswinds make it difficult to judge the distance. It’s definitely not easy.