Should TPC Sawgrass be renamed TPC Mystery?

By Doug FergusonMay 7, 2013, 10:15 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The Players Championship should consider changing the name of its course to the TPC Mystery.

The reason The Players is talked about as the next best thing to a major is because the field is the strongest and deepest in golf. Until the PGA Tour recently created a spot for the Senior Players Championship winner, anyone who teed it up at TPC Sawgrass had as good a chance as the next guy.

The mystery is trying to determine whose game best suits the golf course.

The list of winners is impressive, though it doesn't offer concrete clues except that two-thirds are major champions. More curious is how infrequently some of the game's best players are even in the mix late Sunday afternoon.

Start with Tiger Woods.

He was runner-up in 2000 to Hal ''Be the right club today'' Sutton. He won in 2001 with that putt on the island-green 17th that was better than most.

And that's it.

He tied for 10th one year and finished eighth another. Woods has played 15 times in his career, and he was at the height of his powers for more than half those years, when he could fall out of bed and contend. But at Sawgrass, he's had only two serious chances at winning.

''There's no course that less people have worked out than this one,'' Geoff Ogilvy said upon leaving Sawgrass last year. ''You get one or two chances in your career, and you take them. It's a tournament Tiger has played 15 times, and he's only contended twice. There's something odd there. Maybe that's the genius of the golf course. Or maybe that's the flaw of the golf course.''


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But it's not just Woods.

Phil Mickelson has won 41 times on Tour, second only to Woods in the last 25 years, with four major championships. He won The Players in 2007, right after switching over to Butch Harmon as his swing coach. And that was the only time he seriously contended at Sawgrass. He tied for third in 2004, but he was five shots behind Adam Scott.

Vijay Singh, with 34 wins and three majors, was runner-up to Woods in 2001. In his 19 other appearances, he never finished higher than eighth. Singh won 17 times from 2003 through 2005. He didn't record a top 10 at The Players those years – he missed the cut in 2003 – and broke 70 twice.

Ernie Els, another four-time major champion in the Hall of Fame, never had a good look at winning The Players.

Those are the ''Big Four'' of their generation. That's a collective 72 appearances, two wins and only four chances at winning.

Why?

''No idea,'' said Padraig Harrington, who has ideas on everything. ''I'm not sure how you would put it down. You pick four players, and it's not like all four have the exact same game. Only four chances between them?''

Johnny Miller never had much luck on this golf course, making only two cuts in eight attempts. It was still enough to give him an appreciation of Pete Dye's creation.

''It's just a nervous tournament. It's a nervous week,'' Miller said. ''That's why a lot of guys hardly do well here. It's a course that you have to tippy-toe around, and that's why Tiger ... he won it, but he's struggled here. And Phil has struggled here, and he won it once. You just get a little glimpse of it once in a while when you can play well, and the rest of the time it just eats your lunch. It's really a fun event. You don't know what's going to happen.''

There are examples of top players who do well at The Players. Davis Love III, one of the game's best in his prime, won it twice. So did Fred Couples, and he had a couple of top 5s. Both have had plenty of weekends off at Sawgrass. But this is not a course they own, not the way Love owned Hilton Head or Couples had Augusta National and Riviera.

Americans would call it ''quirky.'' British players would call it ''fiddly.''

A universal word might be ''unpredictable.''

The objective a few years ago was for players to define the golf course in one word. The choices ranged from dramatic to demanding, from thrilling to uncomfortable. Ogilvy, perhaps the most knowledgeable among players when it comes to golf course design, couldn't think of a word. Four days later, while playing the final round, he walked off the 14th tee when he saw a reporter who had asked the question and said without prompting, ''Annoying.''

It can be that for the best of them.

There are a few things on which players would agree. While power is always an advantage in golf, length is not a big issue here. And the key to Sawgrass starts with getting the ball in the fairway. After that, it's a guessing game. Some say a great short game is critical. Others would say the penalty of missing the greens is so severe that not even the best short game can save you.

''It's such a fine line and such a penalty, when you do miss a shot,'' Bo Van Pelt said. ''All those guys have great short games, but on a course where your ball is in the water or you've short-sided yourself, it doesn't matter how good your short game is. You're not going to save the shot. The penalty on a miss is so severe that if a guy is barely off, it can really cost him. You make a big number, and you're out of the tournament.''

Couples said he was playing a practice round recently with a young player – he didn't give his name – who asked about the secret to Sawgrass. Couples told him not to worry about distance and to get the ball in play. And then he added this twist:

''When you get an 8-iron, 9-iron, wedge, don't go at the flag,'' Couples said. ''You don't need to be aggressive. Because for every time you hit close, you'll just miss, and it will ricochet down an embankment.''

It's never a bad idea to listen to Couples talk about Sawgrass. Remember, it was Couples who once was asked the best way to approach the island green at No. 17. His answer:

''Don't look.''

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.