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9 Things I Learned at TPC Sawgrass

It’s a rare occasion when one gets the chance to play on the hallowed fairways at one of pro golf’s most notable courses. Augusta National, Pebble Beach, St. Andrews. Not necessarily easily accessible to the everyday golfer.

But, I was in Ponte Vedra on business in January several years ago when I got the chance to stop in for the unique experience that is TPC Sawgrass (home of THE PLAYERS Championship, and a course anyone can play if reserved in advance).

Here are nine things I learned from my round that day:

1. When you step out of the car in the parking lot, you’ll think, “What am I going to do on 17?” The famous island green is a worldwide landmark, one that strikes fear into pros and novices alike.

2. My tap for a six-footer sailed a good six feet past the cup. Different than the poa annua greens we have In California, the greens turf at TPC was so strong that even when cut extremely low they still stood up and allowed the ball to roll and roll and roll. Putting here takes extreme delicacy.

3. I found it very difficult to determine wind direction. The pros look for the flags atop the tall grandstands. I didn’t have that luxury. But on holes like No. 7 and 15, away from the big stands, pros guess at the wind all the time. just be ready for anything.

TPC Sawgrass - Hole 13 - IMG_9560

The back nine – including No. 13 shown here – is a divine mix of holes that demand control, power, touch, and imagination. Photo by TPC Sawgrass

4. Pete Dye is excellent at mind tricks. He knows that your eye wants a target. Standing on the tee of the par-4 fifth, for example, the fairway is bordered on the right by a sharp edge that falls four feet into by a long waist bunker.

Naturally from the tee, the flag on the green appears to be right on the edge of the fairway, making you think the fairway is about three yards wide. When I hit a ball about 30 yards left of that line into what I thought was the left rough, I was actually in the middle of the fairway. To play Sawgrass, you have to play away from the edges.

5. The bulkheads on fairways and greens that separate grass from water are Pete Dye’s way of speeding up play. In an interview I did with Pete about 15 years ago, he told me he didn’t like how the edges of water hazards had reeds or long rough bordering them. That gave golfers hope. So they searched for lost balls. At Sawgrass, the ball is either in the water or on grass. If you can’t see it, it’s time for a drop.

6. Another thing Dye told me about his courses: On approach shots to the green, if you’re short or long but in the middle, you’ll have no problem. End up off to the side of the green, though, and it’s the kiss of death. Higher handicappers who can’t control a slice feel the brunt of it.

7. The back nine is a divine mix of holes that demand control, power, touch, and imagination. The 11th is the most under-rated hole on the course, a magnificent risk-and-reward par-5 with awesome shot values and visuals. The short par-4 12th is taken from Prestwick as a huge mound on the left blocks view of the small green.

TPC Sawgrass

You’ll spend time before and after your round analyzing how to tame the infamous No. 17 island green. Photo by TPC Sawgrass

8. The final three holes at Sawgrass are to golf tournaments what slot machines are to gambling: Pull the arm and see what happens. Perhaps the best case was 1996 when Fred Couples started No. 16 one stroke behind Colin Montgomerie, then barely avoided disaster to emerge two up going into the 18th tee.

9. As you put your clubs in the trunk of your car, and check that you have everything – wallet, keys and sunglasses – you’ll sit in the car thinking of only one thing: what you did on No. 17.

In my case, it was two 9 irons from 130 yards that (see No. 3 above) meant I was hitting five on my third shot. Into the wind. And, yes, into the water. I know that now.

And I can’t wait to get back to try again.

One response to “9 Things I Learned at TPC Sawgrass”

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