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TPC Sawgrass Preview: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Pete Dye's Gem

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TPC Sawgrass Preview: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Pete Dye's Gem
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This weekend the PGA Tour makes its annual stop in Ponte Vedra, Florida for The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass. The players love this tournament, and, outside of the four majors, consider this the most sought-after prize on the PGA tour.

Even though it is a popular tournament amongst the players, it is not the fifth major. Sounds like one of my daughters trick word problems from her math class:

If there are four majors, and you play another tournament that isn’t a major, how many majors do you have?

Ah, four?

Yes!

As great as the Players Championship is, it is not a major, nor will it ever be. It’s a stop on the tour.

But having said, it’s a great stop!

The tournament used to be played in March, but in 2007 the PGA moved it to its present May spot, mainly to better space out the majors. By playing the tournament later in the spring it also eliminated the need to overseed the Bermudagrass in northeast Florida.

Pete Dye designed the course in 1979, and did a redesign on his own layout in 2006. The 2006 renovations ran upwards of $60 million. The par 72 stadium course plays a shade over 7,200 yards for the best golfers in the world.

The Certified Golf Course Superintendent at the TPC Sawgrass is Thomas Vlach. He’s been at the course for two years. For all you maintenance junkies out there, Vlach will cut the Mini-Verde Bermudagrass greens at .110 for the tournament.

The greens are relatively small for a PGA event, averaging only 4500 square feet per green. The Bermudagrass rough will be cut at a nice fat 3”, lending to the chances of the better part of a golf ball nestling into the thick stuff so just the top is peeking out. Meaning, hit the fairways if you can.

Vlach and his staff had to work extra hard to get the course in shape for this event. It was one of the coldest winters in Florida in some time. They had to cover the greens at night 36 times this winter because of cold temps. In a normal year they do it twice.

“We had a devastating winter,” Vlach wrote on his TPC Sawgrass maintenance blog. “We were completely dormant on the golf course and greens for 15 weeks.” Vlach wrote that normally this would be two weeks at most.

Vlach also wrote that the Stadium Course has been closed since April 12 so the crew could prep for this week.

According to the Golf Course Superintendent’s Tournament Newsletter, there are no significant changes this year to the golf course itself. A couple changes one may notice to the viewing areas for the gallery include a new spectator mound behind the second green and open air-conditioned seating behind the 18th green.

The field is, naturally for this event, strong. World number one player Tiger Woods, fresh off his missed cut at Quail Hollow, along with number two in the world (back there after his second place finish at Quail Hollow) Phil Mickelson, will both be in the field. Both Woods and Mickelson have won the tournament once.

Also Rory McIlroy, the young Irishman who blew away the field on Sunday to win at Quail Hollow, will try and win in back-to-back weeks. Ernie Els and Jim Furyk, both two-time winners on tour this year, are also in the field. Henrick Stenson, last year’s winner, will try and defend his title.

The only player ranked in the Top Ten in the world not here this week is No. 3 Steve Stricker, who withdrew on Monday.

There are a ton of side stories heading into this event. The most talked about one may be the chance for Phil Mickelson, for the first time in his career, to become the world’s top ranked player.

Another side story that usually emerges each year at this event is the golf course itself. Great courses have a way of doing that. They become as talked about as anyone named Phil or Tiger or Anthony or Rory. Pete Dye has a way of designing a golf course that gets that sort of talk.

Jack Nicklaus was once asked if the TPC at Sawgrass fitted his playing style. Jack replied, “No, I’ve never been very good at stopping a five-iron on the hood of a car.”

This was before Dye made some subtle changes to make the greens a little more receptive to good golf shots.

The hole that gets the most water cooler talk is of course that little itty bitty par three 17th . Just 132 yards. Piece of cake.

Known as the Island Green, the extremely undulating surface is surrounded by water with a little bunker in the front. It scares the pros to death, which is quite an accomplishment for such a short golf hole. One of the problems that faces the golfer on the tee is swirling winds. The grove of trees near the green cause the winds to swirl above the green, making club choice often more difficult than one would think.

The accidental design of the hole is that of legend. Apparently it was one of the last holes built on the course. It ended up being in a location that had a lot of sand that ended up getting excavated and used on other parts of the golf course. What was to be the par three 17th suddenly was a large crater. It was Alice Dye who suggested the Island green.

Pete Dye was once asked if he would ever consider changing the 17th .  He answered, “One time I hit an eight or nine-iron to the green and thought, ‘This hole isn’t too tough.’ The player I was with said, ‘It’s not that tough when the only things watching you are me and the frog’.”

Translation: The hole is fine.

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