Graham DeLaet recognizes the interest the public has in the 17th hole at the TPC at Sawgrass. The world’s most famous island green is the focus of much of drama, excitement, heartbreak and exhilaration every year at the Players Championship, which kicks off tomorrow and airs on Global from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. All of that despite the fact the hole is only 137-yards long.
“It is a cool atmosphere,” says DeLaet, the ranked No. 31 in the world and No. 19 in the race for the FedEx Cup. “It isn’t hard to hit that green for a professional golfer. It is hard getting it at the right pin.”
Though DeLaet, who hails from Weyburn, Sask., and will be joined by fellow Canadian David Hearn in the tournament, says he isn’t intimidated by the hole, he admits it is short but mighty. Despite its marginal length, the hole confounds many of the PGA Tour’s best players. In the last 10 years there have been 83 triple bogeys or worse made on the hole even though golfers are typically only hitting a wedge or 9-iron at the green.
“It isn’t just hitting the green,” explains DeLaet. “If it were flat and you asked a professional golfer to hit it, they’d do it every time. But if you hit the wrong part of the green, it is hard to two-putt.”
Click here for Global TV’s coverage of the PGA from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday/Sunday
There are traditional flag positions each year, with the final round featuring a pin that is forward in a bowl on the right side of the green. As DeLaet points out, it isn’t a challenge simply hitting the green—which is larger than many expect—but putting the ball in the right section is more difficult than many anticipate. A gust of wind can knock a shot into the water or blow it a few yards too long, leading to incredulous stares as a potential birdie leads to a golfer heading to the drop area.
Phil Mickelson, who won the Players in 2007, has taken the safe route when it comes to playing the hole. Mickelson, a left-handed golfer who often plays the hole right-handed in practice rounds leading up to the tournament, has simply eschewed the notion of making birdies on 17 in the hope of not creating a mess on his scorecard.
“In 2007, the year that I did win it for the first time, I changed my approach on 17 entirely to basically hit at the middle of the green and just try to make four pars and not make the big number,” he says. “It’s funny to me because I think, by just aiming at the middle of the green, I think you make more birdies that way than if you fire at the pin. Certainly you make less big numbers, and that’s been the key, showing that a little bit more respect for how it can take away two or three shots as opposed to just trying to get back one.”
One thing is clear—there’s plenty riding on a golfer’s success when he hits the final holes at Sawgrass, a course that was devised by the wicked genius of Pete Dye and his wife Alice and is the perennial home of the Players Championship.
“Even if you’re in 26th, like I was last year, and you get to 17 and 18, there’s so much money on the line,” says DeLaet. “If you can make a birdie or two coming in, it can make a big deal of difference.”
For DeLaet, who has teed it up in the Players for the last two years, playing conservatively has led to success. The course, while difficult, is fair and rewards shotmakers who can take advantage of its angles and avoid its devilish hazards. For the Delaet, it is actually the 18th hole, which features water all the way down the left side, that has proven more difficult. In that instance he has simply taken a safe route with an iron off the tee and a longer iron into the green.
“I think 18 is scarier than 17,” he says. “You almost can’t miss there.”
This week on the PGA Tour:
Players Championship at the TPC at Sawgrass
Television times: May 10-11 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Global
Players to watch:
Sergio Garcia: He contended at Sawgrass last year and won in 2008, so it should come as no surprise that Garcia would be in the mix this week. He is also has four Top 10 finishes on the PGA Tour this year in seven starts.
Phil Mickelson: Lefty couldn’t close the deal last week at Quail Hollow, but like Garcia, he’s won at the TPC at Sawgrass before and says he’s driving the ball longer and straighter than ever.
Luke Donald: Donald always hangs around for the weekend at Sawgrass and his game is trending upwards. Expect him to be in the mix this weekend.
Canadians in the field: Graham DeLaet, David Hearn
© Shaw Media, 2014