Is par-3 17th at TPC Sawgrass a great hole?

By Joe PosnanskiMay 10, 2013, 1:10 pm

Famous golf holes
Golden Bell
No. 12 at Augusta National.
Par 3, 155 yards.

Why it’s famous: The shortest hole at Augusta National is guarded by Rae’s Creek, backed by pine trees and azaleas, accessed over Hogan’s Bridge, and surrounded by a deceptive and swirling wind that even people who have played the Masters dozens of times struggle to read. Jack Nicklaus calls it the best little par 3 in the world.

A story: In 1947, Claude Harmon was playing the Masters with Ben Hogan when he made a hole-in-one on No. 12. The crowd cheered madly. When he got to the green and picked the ball out of the hole, the crowd cheered madly again. Harmon waited for Hogan to say something – Hogan was famously icy to competitors. Hogan said nothing. Harmon was about to give up hope, but as they walked to the 13th, Hogan finally spoke.

“You know something, Claude,” Hogan said (according to the story), “I think that’s the first time I ever made birdie there.”


PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Here’s the question: Is the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass a great golf hole? The Island Green – the one surrounded entirely by water except for a 12-foot-wide walkway, you know the hole – is unquestionable one of golf’s most famous holes. It is certainly one of the most iconic holes. It is so popular that people line up just to chip balls toward a miniature version of it in front of the TPC store. It makes for great, great television.

But: Is it a great hole?

In so many ways, this is really the talk of The Players Championship. Here we are with perhaps the deepest field of any golf tournament on earth … and people talk about No. 17. Here we are at the headquarters of the PGA Tour … and people talk about No. 17. Here we are at what many people consider golf’s fifth major … and people talk about No. 17.

“I was playing by myself with no fans on Sunday,” says former PGA champion and Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III, “and I got up there to No. 17. The wind wasn’t blowing, and I was still nervous. … It’s nerve-wracking. I think it makes this tournament become iconic.”

So, that’s one view. But the thing that makes No. 17 a fascinating hole is that for everyone who loves it, there’s someone else who does not. Here’s former PGA player and Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee: “I absolutely think this tournament should be a major. I think one of the things that keeps it from getting its due is the 17th hole. …  There’s a contrived part of the 17th hole that makes it great TV, that makes it great drama, that I think makes the feel of the golf course quirky.”

Yes, this is at the heart of the 17th hole. Is it excellent or quirky? Is it a gimmick or does it have real greatness?


Famous golf holes
The Road Hole
No. 17 at The Old Course, St. Andrews
Par 4, 455 yards

Why it’s famous: Everything about the hole is iconic, from the tee shot (where you hit over a shed with “The Old Course Hotel” sign on it), to the Road Hole bunker (which is so deep that golfers usually have to hit the ball out sideways) to the road itself and the stone wall behind it which are all in play.

A story: In 1984, Tom Watson was tied for the lead as he teed off on the Road Hole – an effort to win a record-tying sixth British Open. He hit the fairway, had 183 yards left, but because of his angle he decided to fly the ball into the green rather than chase it up there. He hit it over and onto the road, only a few inches away from the wall. From there he was only able to jab the ball up on the green, about 35 to 40 feet from the hole. He missed the putt and lost the British Open to Seve Ballesteros.

“My favorite golf courses,” Watson said, “look easy. You want it to look easy so that a golfer can feel at home. Then, as they play it, they find it’s not easy at all.”


What does greatness mean? The highest grossing movies of all time are Avatar and Titanic. Are they great movies? The best-selling books of 2012 were Fifty Shades of Gray and The Hunger Games. Are they great books? The best-selling country albums of all time are Garth Brooks’ “Double Live” and Shania Twain’s “Come On Over.” Are they great albums?

I don’t ask those questions facetiously … there is something about each of these that touches people deeply. There is also something about the 17th hole at Sawgrass that touches people deeply. The golfer steps to the tee and no matter the conditions, no matter the wind, no matter the situation, the golfer must hit a ball over water, nothing but water, onto a green that looks as if it’s floating out there like a giant inflatable raft. The hole is raw and blatant and without any ambiguity – it seems to come out of a child’s dream. There’s the stadium crowd … there’s the golfer … there’s the ball … there’s the water … there’s the green. Now: Succeed!

“It’s a great hole,” says two-time major champion Johnny Miller. “It’s a great test of your nerves.”

One thing about the best golf holes is that they have a depth to them. They are beautiful and challenging and historic. Look at No. 12 at Augusta. It demands more than just nerves of steel … it demands that a golfer make a good decision and judge the twisting winds and plot out the proper place to hit the ball and overcome the ghosts of all the people who lost the Masters there.

Look at the road hole at St. Andrews. It looks like nothing, but history swirls around the place, and there are countless ways to play it, and like Watson says what looks easy is difficult, and what seems simple is in fact drenched in complications.

What about the Island Green?

“I like it,” six-time major champion Nick Faldo says of the Island Green. “I like it because you think about it before you drive in the gate. …  It gets your attention.”

“Nick is absolutely right,” Chamblee says. “I woke up every morning thinking about that hole. But if I had an execution in the afternoon, I’d wake up thinking about that, too.”


Famous golf holes
No. 18 at Pebble Beach
Par 5, 543 yards

Why it’s famous: It is probably the most iconic finishing hole in golf, not so much for its difficulty as its beauty. The hole runs along the Pacific Ocean, a very long bunker guards the left side of the green (where the Sunday flag is always placed) and a single Cypress tree also guards the green.  The decision to go for the green or lay up is one of the most interesting in professional golf.

A story: At the 2000 U.S. Open, John Daly came to No. 18 and hit his drive right. When he got to the ball, he realized that it was out of bounds. So, he trudged back to the tee where he promptly hooked two balls into the water. He then hit a ball into the fairway, laid up in front of the green, then hit his approach shot into the water. He took a drop in the bunker and, because of the angle, was forced to play his next shot left-handed. The ball stayed in the bunker. Then he chunked it up on the green and two-putted for a 14.

And then, he withdrew from the U.S. Open.


The 17th hole at Sawgrass wasn’t supposed to be an island green, you know. When architect Pete Dye and former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman were building this new kind of golf course – with the spectator in mind as well as the golfer – the 17th hole was meant to be a par 3 with a lake. That’s all. But, you should know, TPC Sawgrass was built on swampland, which means that the builders were constantly looking for good sand to use. Most of the best sand seemed to be surrounding the 17th green, and so they dug deep into the dirt.

“You know,” Pete Dye’s wife Alice, a golf architect herself, said as she saw all the ground dug up around the green, “we should just make it an island green.”

It was a magical choice. Amateurs will hit more than 120,000 golf balls into the water surrounding the Island Green every year, so many that 12 times a year the course will send divers into the water just to retrieve the balls. If you want an amazing statistic, consider this one: Based on the number of balls found in the water and the number of rounds played a year, it’s been estimated that the average golfer hits THREE BALLS into water at No. 17 (though many golfers will hit a dozen or more golf balls into the water to skew the average).

Still, they keep coming back.

As far as tournament play goes, it’s probably the most telegenic golf hole in the world. Ten cameras catch every movement. The huge crowd surrounding the green gives it atmosphere. Each tee shot is a hold-your-breath moment.

Since they started having The Players Championship at Sawgrass in 1982, 8 percent of the professionals – about one in 12 – have made double bogey or worse. And when the wind howls like in 2002 and 2007, those numbers skyrocket. In 2007, 93 balls were hit in the water, roughly one out of every five shots.

All the golfers think about No. 17. They obsess over it. They argue about it. When golfer Brian Stuard played his first-ever practice round here this week, he wanted only to land the ball on the green (he did). Davis Love – who has shot a record 22 sub-par rounds at Sawgrass – says he avoids even thinking about No. 17 until he’s ready to hit the tee shot. When Fred Couples walks the 16th fairway, he will not even look at 17 – and Couples actually has some good memories at 17. He made a hole-in-one in 1997. And in 1999, he dumped a shot in the water, quickly and angrily teed up in the same spot, hit a shot, and watched it drop in the hole for the craziest par in the history of the hole.

“It’s a cut-and-dry thing,” golfer Daniel Summerhays says. “Either you’re OK or you’re dead.”


Famous golf holes
The Island Green
No. 17 at TPC Sawgrass
Par 3, 132 yards

Why it’s famous: The Island Green is instantly recognized by golf fans around the world because of all the water and for the many golfing disasters that it causes. For better and worse, it is probably the most talked-about hole in American golf.

A story: In 1985, a grocery manager named Angelo Spagnolo was one of four men competing in Golf Digest’s “America’s Worst Avid Golfer” competition. The four all played as poorly as you might expect – 179 was the low score – but the competition for worst was somewhat up for grabs as they went to the 17th hole.

And there, Spagnolo found lifelong fame. He hit 27 balls in the water. No. Really. Twenty-seven. He hit two dozen balls that were given to him and then was forced to hit range balls to complete the hole. At one point, an official suggested that, in the interest of ending the tournament before they all died of old age, Spagnolo might consider putting the ball on the cart path and going AROUND the lake, then putting the ball up the walkway on to the green. Spagnolo did that and made it to the green in 63 shots. From there, he was a mere three-putt away from his legendary 66. He became, unquestionably, the worst avid golfer in America.

“I just don’t give up,” Angelo told a reporter more than two decades later.


Yes, of course, there are many things that make up a great golf hole. Beauty. Difficulty. Scenery. History. Strategy. In the end, though, it probably comes down to the memories made there. Tom Watson chipped in on the 17th at Pebble Beach. Jean van de Velde utterly fell apart on the 18th at Carnoustie. Tiger Woods pointed at the hole as his putt dropped at No. 16 at Valhalla in Louisville. A photo of Ben Hogan hitting his 1-iron shot at Merion is probably the most famous in golf history, and the image of Jack Nicklaus raising his putter to the sky as his putt fell at No. 17 at Augusta is indelible.

The memories make those holes great.

In 1998, Len Mattiace was trailing by one going into the 17th hole at The Players Championship. Mattiace was a true local -- he had gone to high school just down the road in Ponte Vedre, the course was his golfing home. And everyone was rooting for the hometown guy, not only because of location. His mother, Joyce, who was in the final stages of lung cancer, was in the crowd, in a wheelchair, watching.

He stepped up to the tee and crushed his shot over the green and into the water. The tournament was lost. And then, he sort of got lost himself. He took a drop and hit it into the bunker. He hit the bunker shot back into the water. He finished with an 8. He finished a distant fifth in the tournament. But afterward, Mattiace then handled the loss with dignity, answering every question and making no excuses. Reporters and fans marveled at how he dealt with getting so close to a dream.

Years later, Len’s wife Kristen was talking to reporter Tim Rosaforte about that round. She said that not long after, someone had asked Len’s mother Joyce if she was upset about the way it had ended. She said: “No, I saw my son play a wonderful round. And then I read what people wrote about him, and I got to see the son I raised.” Joyce died three months later.

Len Mattiace would go on to a nice career. He would win a couple of PGA Tour events and lose in a Masters playoff to Mike Weir. But perhaps his greatest moment came at No. 17 at Sawgrass, where he hit the ball in the water but did not let the great hole beat him.


Read more articles from Joe Posnanski on nbcsports.msnbc.com.

Getty Images

Copycat: Honda's 17th teeters on edge of good taste

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 12:37 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The Honda Classic won’t pack as many fans around its party hole this week as the Phoenix Open does, but there is something more intensely intimate about PGA National’s stadium setup.

Players feel like the spectators in the bleachers at the tee box at Honda’s 17th hole are right on top of them.

“If the wind’s wrong at the 17th tee, you can get a vodka cranberry splashed on you,” Graeme McDowell cracked. “They are that close.”

Plus, the 17th at the Champion Course is a more difficult shot than the one players face at Scottsdale's 16th.

It’s a 162-yard tee shot at the Phoenix Open with no water in sight.

It’s a 190-yard tee shot at the Honda Classic, to a small, kidney-shaped green, with water guarding the front and right side of the green and a bunker strategically pinched into the back-center. Plus, it’s a shot that typically must be played through South Florida’s brisk winter winds.

“I’ve hit 3- and 4-irons in there,” McDowell said. “It’s a proper golf hole.”

It’s a shot that can decide who wins late on a Sunday, with hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line.

Factor in the intensely intimate nature of that hole, with fans partaking in libations at the Gosling Bear Trap pavilion behind the 17th tee and the Cobra Puma Village behind the 17th green, and the degree of difficulty there makes it one of the most difficult par 3s on the PGA Tour. It ranked as the 21st most difficult par 3 on the PGA Tour last year with a 3.20 scoring average. Scottsdale's 16th ranked 160th at 2.98.

That’s a fairly large reason why pros teeing it up at the Honda Classic don’t want to see the Phoenix-like lunacy spill over here the way it threatened to last year.

That possibility concerns players increasingly agitated by the growing unruliness at tour events outside Phoenix. Rory McIlroy said the craziness that followed his pairing with Tiger Woods in Los Angeles last week left him wanting a “couple Advil.” Justin Thomas, also in that grouping, said it “got a little out of hand.”


Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


So players will be on alert arriving at the Honda Classic’s 17th hole this week.

A year ago, Billy Horschel complained to PGA Tour officials about the heckling Sergio Garcia and other players received there.

Horschel told GolfChannel.com last year that he worried the Honda Classic might lose some of its appeal to players if unruly fan behavior grew worse at the party hole, but he said beefed up security helped on the weekend. Horschel is back this year, and so is Garcia, good signs for Honda as it walks the fine line between promoting a good party and a good golf tournament.

“I embrace any good sporting atmosphere as long as it stays respectful,” Ian Poulter said. “At times, the line has been crossed out here on Tour. People just need to be sensible. I am not cool with being abused.

“Whenever you mix alcohol with a group of fans all day, then Dutch courage kicks in at some stage.”

Bottom line, Poulter likes the extra excitement fans can create, not the insults some can hurl.

“I am all up for loud crowds,” he said. “A bit of jeering and fun is great, but just keep it respectful. It’s a shame it goes over the line sometimes. It needs to be managed.”

Honda Classic executive director Ken Kennerly oversees that tough job. In 12 years leading the event, he has built the tournament into something special. The attendance has boomed from an estimated 65,000 his first year at the helm to more than 200,000 last year.

With Tiger Woods committed to play this year, Kennerly is hopeful the tournament sets an attendance record. The arrival of Woods, however, heightens the challenges.

Woods is going off with the late pairings on Friday, meaning he will arrive at Honda’s party hole late in the day, when the party’s fully percolating.

Kennerly is expecting 17,000 fans to pack that stadium-like atmosphere on the event’s busiest days.

Kennerly is also expecting the best from South Florida fans.

“We have a zero tolerance policy,” Kennerly said. “We have more police officers there, security and more marshals.

“We don’t want to be nasty and throw people out, but we want them to be respectful to players. We also want it to continue to be a fun place for people to hang out, because we aren’t getting 200,000 people here just to watch golf.”

Kennerly said unruly fans will be ejected.

“But we think people will be respectful, and I expect when Tiger and the superstars come through there, they aren’t going to have an issue,” Kennerly said.

McDowell believes Kennerly has the right balance working, and he expects to see that again this week.

“They’ve really taken this event up a couple notches the last five or 10 years with the job they’ve done, especially with what they’ve done at the 16th and 17th holes,” McDowell said. “I’ve been here a lot, and I don’t think it’s gotten to the Phoenix level yet.”

The real test of that may come Friday when Woods makes his way through there at the end of the day.

Getty Images

Door officially open for Woods to be playing vice captain

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 20, 2018, 11:50 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Thirteen months ago, when Jim Furyk was named the 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, one of the biggest questions was what would happen if Furyk were to play his way onto his own team.

It wasn’t that unrealistic. 

At the time, Furyk was 46 and coming off a season in which he tied for second at the U.S. Open and shot 58 in a PGA Tour event. If anything, accepting the Ryder Cup captaincy seemed premature.

And now?

Now, he’s slowly recovering from shoulder surgery that knocked him out of action for six months. He’s ranked 230th in the world. He’s planning to play an 18-event schedule, on past champion status, mostly to be visible and available to prospective team members.

A playing captain? Furyk chuckled at the thought.

“Wow,” he said here at PGA of America headquarters, “that would be crazy-difficult.”

That’s important to remember when assessing Tiger Woods’ chances of becoming a playing vice captain.

On Tuesday, Woods was named an assistant for the matches at Le Golf National, signing up for months of group texts and a week in which he'd sport an earpiece, scribble potential pairings on a sheet of paper and fetch anything Team USA needs.

It’s become an increasingly familiar role for Woods, except this appointment isn’t anything like his vice captaincy at Hazeltine in 2016 or last year’s Presidents Cup.

Unlike the past few years, when his competitive future was in doubt because of debilitating back pain, there’s at least a chance now that Woods can qualify for the team on his own, or deserve consideration as a captain’s pick. 

There’s a long way to go, of course. He’s 104th in the points standings. He’s made only two official starts since August 2015. His driving needs a lot of work. He hasn’t threatened serious contention, and he might not for a while. But, again: Come September, it’s possible.

And so here was Woods’ taped message Tuesday: “My goal is to make the team, but whatever happens over the course of this season, I will continue to do whatever I can to help us keep the cup.”

That follows what Woods told reporters last week at Riviera, when he expressed a desire to be a playing vice captain.

“Why can’t I have both?” he said. “I like both.”

Furyk, eventually, will have five assistants in Paris, and he could have waited to see how Woods fared this year before assigning him an official role.

He opted against that. Woods is too valuable of an asset.

“I want him on-board right now,” Furyk said.

Arnold Palmer was the last to serve as both player and captain for a Ryder Cup – in 1963. Nothing about the Ryder Cup bears any resemblance to those matches, other than there’s still a winner and a loser. There is more responsibility now. More planning. More strategy. More pressure.

For the past two team competitions, the Americans have split into four-man pods that practiced together under the supervision of one of the assistants. That assistant then relayed any pertinent information to the captain, who made the final decision.

The assistants are relied upon even more once the matches begin. Furyk will need to be on the first tee for at least the first hour of the matches, welcoming all of the participants and doing interviews for the event’s many TV partners, and he needs an assistant with each of the matches out on the course. They’re the captain’s eyes and ears.

Furyk would need to weigh whether Woods’ potential impact as a vice captain – by all accounts he’s the best Xs-and-Os specialist – is worth more than the few points he could earn on the course. Could he adequately handle both tasks? Would dividing his attention actually be detrimental to the team?

“That would be a bridge we cross when we got there,” Furyk said.

If Woods plays well enough, then it’s hard to imagine him being left off the roster, even with all of the attendant challenges of the dual role.

“It’s possible,” Furyk said, “but whether that’s the best thing for the team, we’ll see.”

It’s only February, and this comeback is still new. As Furyk himself knows, a lot can change over the course of a year.

Getty Images

Furyk tabs Woods, Stricker as Ryder Cup vice captains

By Will GrayFebruary 20, 2018, 9:02 pm

U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk has added Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker to his stable of vice captains to aid in his quest to win on foreign soil for the first time in 25 years.

Furyk made the announcement Tuesday in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., site of this week's Honda Classic. He had previously named Davis Love III as his first vice captain, with a fourth expected to be named before the biennial matches kick off in France this September.

The addition of Woods and Stricker means that the team room will have a familiar feel from two years ago, when Love was the U.S. captain and Furyk, Woods, Stricker and Tom Lehman served as assistants.

This will be the third time as vice captain for Stricker, who last year guided the U.S. to victory as Presidents Cup captain. After compiling a 3-7-1 individual record as a Ryder Cup player from 2008-12, Stricker served as an assistant to Tom Watson at Gleneagles in 2014 before donning an earpiece two years ago on Love's squad at Hazeltine.

"This is a great honor for me, and I am once again thrilled to be a vice captain,” Stricker said in a statement. “We plan to keep the momentum and the spirit of Hazeltine alive and channel it to our advantage in Paris."

Woods will make his second appearance as a vice captain, having served in 2016 and also on Stricker's Presidents Cup team last year. Woods played on seven Ryder Cup teams from 1997-2012, and last week at the Genesis Open he told reporters he would be open to a dual role as both an assistant and a playing member this fall.

"I am thrilled to once again serve as a Ryder Cup vice captain and I thank Jim for his confidence, friendship and support," Woods said in a statement. "My goal is to make the team, but whatever happens over the course of this season, I will continue to do what I can to help us keep the cup."

The Ryder Cup will be held Sept. 28-30 at Le Golf National in Paris. The U.S. has not won in Europe since 1993 at The Belfry in England.

Getty Images

Watch: Guy wins $75K boat, $25K cash with 120-foot putt

By Grill Room TeamFebruary 20, 2018, 8:15 pm

Making a 120-foot putt in front of a crowd of screaming people would be an award in and of itself for most golfers out there, but one lucky Minnesota man recently got a little something extra for his effort.

The Minnesota Golf Show at the Minneapolis Convention Center has held a $100,000 putting contest for 28 years, and on Sunday, Paul Shadle, a 49-year-old pilot from Rosemount, Minnesota, became the first person ever to sink the putt, winning a pontoon boat valued at $75,000 and $25,000 cash in the process.

But that's not the whole story. Shadle, who describes himself as a "weekend golfer," made separate 100-foot and 50-foot putts to qualify for an attempt at the $100K grand prize – in case you were wondering how it's possible no one had ever made the putt before.

"Closed my eyes and hoped for the best," Shadle said of the attempt(s).

Hard to argue with the result.