PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Start with a bone-chilling wind that raged across TPC Sawgrass with gusts beyond 35 mph, add a saturated golf course with acres of juicy rough and a dollop of late winter with temperatures plunging to 50 degrees, and the result is normally a disgruntled locker room.
Perspective is often in short supply when PGA Tour types are faced with the kind of conditions that dominated Saturday at The Players Championship. But as the lucky few limped off the Stadium Course there was no belligerence, just begrudged acceptance.
“I think the Tour did a good job. We're lucky that it's wet,” explained Keegan Bradley, who was at 1 under following rounds of 72-71. “Man, I'll tell you, that [Nos.] 17 and 18 are playing hard. I don't know if I've ever played two holes as hard as that. But I think they did a great job. To be able to play under these conditions, they've done a good job.”
Behind Saturday’s cold front — that delayed the restart of Round 1 until noon ET — came fierce winds from the northwest. The par-3 17th hole and par-4 18th hole played into the teeth of that gale and were predictably the toughest- and second-toughest holes, respectively, for the second round.
In the coming years, Saturday at this Players Championship will be a cautionary tale whispered when things get tough, “Yeah, but it’s not like it was in ’22 at TPC. That was brutal.”
As difficult as the Stadium Course was, the conditions didn’t play favorites. The marquee threesome of Scottie Scheffler, Xander Schauffele and Brooks Koepka – the world’s fifth-, seventh- and 18th-ranked players – combined to play the remainder of their first and second rounds in 18 over par. The 17th hole took a savage toll on Koepka, who was 5 over for his two trips to the island green.
“We hit a gust. I don't think it was going harder for anybody else out here than when me, Scottie and Xander played it,” said Koepka, whose group was the first to play No. 17 after the restart of Round 1. “That was my first shot of the day, and I thought it was blowing the hardest. Then it picked up again when we were on 16. I hit 8-iron, flew 205 yards on 16. On 17 hit [8-iron] 105 [into the water].”
Although Koepka’s tale of woe was probably the most high-profile on the sinister 17th hole, it was not unique. Chesson Hadley’s tee shot was one of 19 total shots (17 off the tee and two from the drop zone) that found the bottom of Pete Dye’s contrived pond.
Hadley’s double-bogey 5 marred an otherwise solid round, but even in the emotional moments after signing his card, he maintained an impressive level of perspective.
“My front number was I think we had 117 [yards]. I just tried to hit this super-chippy 8-iron, and I did, I hit it the way I wanted to, I hit it solid, and I don't know … it's blowing 100 [mph], so I don't know if it was more gusty, but it just went straight up in the air,” Hadley laughed. “I bet [his golf ball] was going backwards at the end.”
As a general rule, players don’t care for courses that make them look silly, or even human. And Saturday at TPC Sawgrass was extremely humanizing with the course playing nearly 3 ½ shots over par for Round 2. Yet there was none of the normal grousing that accompanies these types of grinding tests.
Instead, players simply shrugged and pointed at a leaderboard that was dominated by players who completed their first rounds back on Thursday and didn’t have to endure the entirety of Saturday’s tempest.
Besides, Justin Thomas and Bubba Watson didn’t seem to be pushed past the limit. Both were bogey-free for the second round and were tied for 15th following rounds of 68 (Watson) and 69 (Thomas).
“No, the golf course is never to the edge. The balls will never roll on the greens. It's just hard, right?” Watson reasoned.
Not everyone walked off the wind-whipped course entirely at ease with the conditions or the setup, but even the discontent had more to do with what is looking to be a wildly lopsided draw more than course conditions.
“It's brutal, man. It's pure luck and somewhat loss of integrity of the tournament in my opinion,” said Kevin Kisner, who was the lone player from the late-early wave to play his way into the top 5 before playing his final six holes in 4 over. “Balls rolling on the greens, only 72 of us playing in that. It's just going to be different tomorrow. I understand the difference in the waves, but when I got to 17 and 18 you couldn't hardly stand up much less hit a golf shot.”
Things have a chance to even out when the early-late wave finally takes the course early Sunday with slightly less wind (12-22 mph) but dramatically colder temperatures (Sunday’s high is 54 degrees).
There will be more carnage at Nos. 17 and 18, more anxiety and uncertainty, but if Saturday’s response was any guide, don’t expect any grousing from a field that understands that TPC Sawgrass is simply a demanding test.