As Players Championship arrives, so do challenges of 17th island green
Famed hole at TPC Sawgrass continues to vex world’s best
by Chris Cox/PGA TOUR
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA – Brooks Koepka is more than willing to break down any of famed architect Pete Dye’s holes at TPC Sawgrass. Except for the most famous of them all, that is.
The Players Championship is won or lost at the 17th island green, with its thousands of spectators always at the ready to cheer those who conquer it. Koepka is still waiting to hear directed his way.
“It’s my least favorite,” he said. “I’ve played that hole pretty poorly over the years. I’ve got to be up there with one of the worst to ever play that hole.”
The winner of four major championships isn’t exactly exaggerating, either. He is 15-over par at the island green since 2014, the most of any player. And it’s not really close: Zac Blair is six shots better at 9-over, while Paul Casey and Kevin Streelman are 8-over. Four others, including Tony Finau, are 7-over.
“Any hole but that hole,” Koepka said. “I dread that one, going into that tee box. It’s not fun. I’ve found the water three or four times. The other 17 holes I enjoy, but that one not so much.”
The rich story about the origin of the hole, which plays approximately 135 yards, has been well documented. Dye’s wife, Alice, knowing Pete had mined so much sand from the area, suggested the only remedy was to make it an island green.
Some of the most memorable moments in Players history have occurred at No. 17. From Tiger Woods’ “better than most” putt of nearly 60 feet in 2001 to Rickie Fowler’s three Sunday birdies there to win in a 2015 playoff, the hole has provided ample drama over the years. This year’s rendition likely will be no different.
“It’s the hole everyone always talks about,” said Louis Oosthuizen. “If you think of The Players Championship, you think of the 17th, just because of all the things that have happened there over the years. With it being the 71st hole, it’s pretty tough.”
While the hole can be a nightmare for players like Koepka, it can be cathartic for others. Consider hometown favorite Billy Horschel, who is welcomed favorably as a former star at the University of Florida.
“I know it can be nerve-wracking for some people, but walking from No. 16 to No. 17 tee, and No. 17 tee to the green, and off that green to No. 18, that corner is just electric,” said Horschel. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm. There’s a lot of support for every player, not just me.
“Everyone wants to be there. Everyone wants to see that hole. When you think of how many people can actually be on that hole and get to see the second and third shots on 16 and all of 17, you can fit 30,000 or 40,000 people there. It’s like you’re in an actual small football stadium.”
The 17th has the highest scoring average of any par-3 on Tour under 150 yards over the last 17 years. Since 2003, 10.8 percent of all tee shots in official rounds have found the water.
“You’ll see guys playing 16 watching guys hit shots on 17 and how they’re holding up,” said Jim Furyk. “How is the green receiving shots? The green is quite large, and it’s not a difficult shot. But at The Players, with the pressure and if the green firms up, it totally shrinks. Those back six to eight yards are useless. If you hit it back there, the ball is gone. Your margin of error shrinks and it becomes a much tougher golf shot.”
Koepka can attest. Even as he is asked to dissect the closing par-4 18th, his thoughts can’t help but drift back to the 17th.
“I’ll take four pars every day (on 18), because that means I got by 17,” he said. “I got enough balls in my bag to finish 18. That’s always a good thing.”