PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – NFL players don’t choose to spend their free time in the shadows of league offices and iron-fisted commissioner Roger Goodell. Major League Baseball players don’t hang near Bud Selig. NBA players don’t live by Adam Silver.
All of which makes the PGA Tour a growing anomaly.
That’s because Ponte Vedra Beach, home to headquarters for the circuit, is increasingly becoming a landing destination for some of its members, who have willfully decided to live in the same town that holds the office of commissioner Tim Finchem.
“Oh, yeah. We get together and go drink beer all the time,” joked Billy Horschel before getting serious. “No, no. I’ll see Tim out here once in a while practicing.”
“I’ve seen Mr. Finchem once or twice in the past five years,” reported Russell Knox.
“So far this year, I’ve seen him here maybe twice,” David Lingmerth said. “But it’s good to see him.”
“Here” is TPC Sawgrass, just a short stroll from the PGA Tour’s main headquarters and, of course, home to this week’s Players Championship. It also serves as home base for seven players in this week’s field – Horschel, Knox, Lingmerth, Jim Furyk, Luke Guthrie, Jonas Blixt and Matt Every - players who are allowed to play and practice at the facility year-round, free of charge, which is an obvious enticement.
“I wanted to move to Florida,” Lingmerth said. “To have this facility to play for free, I figured it couldn’t hurt.”
This is hardly a new phenomenon. Area residents Mark McCumber and David Duval have each won the event. Same goes for transplants Calvin Peete, Jodie Mudd and Fred Funk. Past champion Sandy Lyle moved here years after his win.
And that list doesn’t even include the most famous local resident, Vijay Singh, who isn’t in this week’s field but who has been known to log more time on the practice range than maybe all of ’em combined.
Which explains the rationale behind living near headquarters. While athletes in those other sports wouldn’t benefit by having extra fields or courts at their disposal, golfers can enhance their performance by taking advantage of these facilities – even if they don’t have an advantage this week.
“It’s nice to have friends and family watching,” said Knox, who lives about 25 minutes away. “But course knowledge? No, there’s no advantage, because the course we play normally compared to the setup this week is like two different courses. Yes, I’ve played it maybe more times than most people, but some guys have played here maybe 20 years, so they have more experience than I do.”
“I don’t play much here; the course is always packed,” Horschel added. “There’s no advantage because the course plays so much different this week. It’s a lot longer. The only advantage is sightlines off the tees; you can get comfortable hitting tee shots.”
There’s more to the area than just golf, though.
For some of these players, the appeal of a sleepy beach town that’s never too crowded outdistances any professional assets.
“I was looking at moving down to South Florida, maybe the Jupiter area,” Lingmerth said. “I feel like it’s more hectic down there. It’s a little more slow-paced here, more laid-back, which I like. It’s close to the beach. It’s a good area. I like it.”
“Where I’m from is a small town,” said Horschel, who lives two miles from the course. “When I graduated UF, I loved Gainesville and wish it had been near the water. But it’s in the middle of the state. Being raised by the ocean, I just felt like I needed to move back. I was here several times, seemed like the logical choice.”
Horschel has seen other benefits to being here, too.
“I get along with pretty much everyone at the Tour,” he said. “They ask me to do stuff and I don’t get bombarded. In return, when I need help, they help me out whenever possible. I may know some – I won’t call it inside information – but I may know a little bit more about what’s going on than some other players.”
There can also be some unforeseen advantages.
Prior to competing in his first Players this week, Knox knew there was something he’d never done at the course. And he knew it could be an important one to cross off his personal list.
“I’d never hit it in the water on 17 and last time I played here was with my wife’s brother-in-law,” he recalled. “I kind of knew that I might get into this tournament and I didn’t want to have the pressure of getting in and never having hit it in the water. So I’m not going to say I deliberately hit it in the water, but when it did go in, I was pretty happy.”