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Rookies embrace challenge of par-3 17th at Sawgrass

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The island hole awaits.

For 21 PGA Tour pros making their debut at The Players this week, there is more than the usual angst over a date with the iconic 17th hole.

It is, after all, a first date.

If the 17th had an online dating profile, it might open like this:

Moody wild child who will at some point break your heart ...

Ryan Blaum is 34 and eager to tee it up at The Players for the first time, knowing how the 17th can become the center of the golf universe.

He watched the event just about every year growing up in Miami.

“Sometimes, it was just fun to watch the carnage,” Blaum said.

Kevin Tway knows what Blaum means, but he wouldn’t necessarily call it fun to watch.


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Tway, 29, knew the wicked charms of the 17th before he played the hole for the first time ever in a practice round on Monday.

Kevin’s father, Bob, birdied the hole countless times in the 21 years he played the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course. Bob won eight PGA Tour titles, including the 1986 PGA Championship. The man could really play, but he set a record at The Players for one-man carnage at the 17th. Bob made a 12 at the hole back in 2005.

He hit four balls in the water there in the third round, flying his first two shots over the green and then watching his third and fourth spin off the front of the green.

After hitting the green with his fifth shot, he three putted.

Bob was tied for 10th stepping to the tee that day. He ended up tying for 72nd.

“You’re playing great,” Bob said that day. “All of a sudden, in one hole, you might as well be finishing last.”

Kevin didn’t bother asking his father about the hole before heading to the Stadium Course this week.

“There are some things you probably just shouldn’t talk about,” Kevin cracked. “That’s one of them.”

What did Kevin do when he got his first chance ever at the 17th on Monday?

“Hit a pitching wedge too far, it went in the water,” Kevin said. “Got it out of the way.”

Kevin is eager for his chance at the hole when The Players officially begins Thursday.

“I’ve been thinking about it,” he said. “To be honest, I’m a little nervous.”

He won’t be alone.

Andrew Landry, 30, is making his first appearance in The Players. This week also marked the first time he ever played the 17th.

“I definitely felt a little nerves over the shot in my first practice round,” Landry said. “It’s kind of cool to get some nerves on a Tuesday.”

Landry hit the green, but he said he learned the adventure isn’t over there. He dropped a ball on the ridge in the middle of the green and tried to putt down to where a front pin might be.

“I putted it off the green and into the water,” he said.

Bryson DeChambeau, 24, played the 17th for the first time Tuesday in a practice round. He took some time at the tee box to soak in the moment.

“You stop and go, `Hmmm, this is pretty special,’” DeChambeau said. “We don’t play another hole like it on tour. It’s an island green, and you have to hit the green. Normally, it’s just going to be a wedge, but it isn’t easy. If you get some wind, it can be a brutal.”

With the wind blowing into him, DeChambeau hit the green with a 9-iron, about 20 feet from the hole.

Ollie Schniederjans, 24, said he hasn’t been over thinking the hole. He played it in a junior event as a 14-year-old.

“I think I won the event,” he said.

But not without going unscathed the first time he played the 17th.

“I one hopped it over the back, into the water,” he said.

All these first timers understand the challenge will escalate when fans begin showing up in droves on Thursday.

Xander Schauffele, 24, is teeing it up in The Players for the first time, but he stopped to play the Stadium Course before heading over to the Puerto Rico Open last year. He safely hit the 17th his first time playing it.

“When I played last year, there was nobody here,” Schauffele said. “I got up to the tee, and it was, `OK, just normal wedge, nothing to it.’ It was late in the day, and there wasn’t much wind.

“What makes 17 so great at The Players is there’s usually wind, usually switching around, and there are people everywhere, yelling, and there’s a lot of pressure, with a lot on the line. “And all you can see is water. That’s why it’s a special hole.”

No matter if it’s your first date or not.