PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Luke Guthrie was pleasantly surprised when he stepped onto the 17th tee box earlier this week.
“In practice rounds it’s like the biggest green on the course, and you’re so close to it. It looks longer and harder on TV,” he said Wednesday. “I can only imagine when I get to the hole tomorrow, though. Once it’s under the gun, with shots that really matter, it’s going to be a different story.”
If the watery par-3 17th at TPC Sawgrass isn’t the most intimidating hole in golf, it’s at least in the conversation.
“You think about it before you drive in the gate,” Nick Faldo said.
“You have to go through the nervous gauntlet,” Johnny Miller added.
So imagine how this week’s first-timers feel.
Right now, a day before the start of The Players, the strongest and richest tournament in golf, they exude calm, even confidence.
Just look at James Hahn.
Two years ago, he played here during a pro-am for the Web.com Tour event. That day there was no wind, the tee box was moved up to about 135 yards, the hole location was accessible, and he required only a pitching wedge.
Fast-forward two years, to this past Monday. The hole was longer (about 147 yards), and there was a crosswind, and Hahn couldn’t figure out the direction, and even during a practice round he was nervous, and he hit a cut 8-iron hoping it would carry the water and the bunker and the ridge and safely find the middle of the green. It did.
“It’s easier than it looks on TV,” he said, “but come talk to me at the end of the tournament to see if I have the same answer.”
Charlie Beljan doesn’t get fazed by much. After all, this is the same guy who had a panic attack during the second round at Disney, spent the night in the hospital and went on to win his first PGA Tour event.
“I thrive off the people,” said Beljan, who lists the raucous par-3 16th at TPC Scottsdale as his favorite hole in golf.
“This is a pitching-wedge shot. If it didn’t have water around it, we wouldn’t even talk about it.”
Was hitting the tee shot harder or easier than he expected?
“I’d say easier,” he said. “I was shocked when I stood on the tee. It’s right there in front of you.”
During a practice round Sunday, he hit three tee shots. Two found the putting surface, while the third came up about 20 yards short. In the middle of the pond.
“Wind gusts make the hole difficult,” Beljan said.
And so do the nerves, the thousands of fans watching and the $1.71 million payout on the line.