By Kathy Bissell
Ask any PGA Tour player about the finishing hole par threes at the TPC Scottsdsale and the TPC Sawgrass and you’ll get an earful. Are they hard? Are they fair? Are they fun? Are they frightening?
“You’ve going to hear everything from the Bible to the dictionary at the 16th hole.” Ricky Barnes said about what has become one of the most infamous par threes on the PGA Tour, the 16th at the TPC Scottsdale.
“If there's 50,000 people, you can't focus on anything so it doesn't bother you, “ Charley Hoffman explained. “It's just like if everybody's talking, it doesn't bother you. Obviously I think it would probably be easier on 16 if everybody kept talking instead of the Thunderbirds trying to get everybody quiet. You know what you're walking into when you go into the stadium on 16. It's fun, and you just hope you hit the green so you don't get booed.”
At this point in time, players expect that hole to be raucous.
“It's always fun to show up somewhere where you know people are going to be cheering for you,” Camilo Villegas added. “You know it's going to be loud, you know they're going to be -- you're going to get great comments, you're going to get bad comments, and it's like, okay, enjoy the great comments and block the bad ones.”
Most players agree that when the noise is a solid roar, it doesn’t bother them as much as that one loud voice. But according to Kenny Perry, the 16th does take some getting used to.
“It was pretty intimidating at first,” Kenny Perry admitted about the 16th. “You listen to the young kids in the locker room, and a lot of people don't come here because of that hole. They won't play here because they don't want people yelling at them and stuff.”
Perry compared it to the 17th at Warwick Hills in terms of crowd craziness. (For those who came to golf five minutes ago, that’s where the Buick Open was played for most of its 51 year history until taxpayers became GM shareholders.)
“There's so much going around, sometimes you've got to back off a little bit more,” J.B. Holmes said.
Justin Leonard added, “You know, those people out there, you've just got to embrace them and they'll embrace you back, otherwise it makes for a long hole.” Pretty funny since it’s a par three.
TPC Sawgrass 17th is a different animal. It’s more beastly because it’s an island surrounded by water.
The crowds, which surround both the 16th and 17th holes at the TPC Sawgrass, ebb and flow with the popularity of groups coming through. The amount of noise is proportional to the number of beverages consumed.
However, since the increase in corporate boxes, it actually seems more laid back than it was in years past when hecklers would camp out behind directly behind the 17th tee, have a beverage or six and make dollar bets for “Make or Miss” on tee shots. You could actually see the money changing hands.
That had to be disconcerting to the guy who just dumped one in the water. The tournament management recently moved galleries back from behind the tee. (Killjoys!)
“Most golf course designers will leave one side open where you can bail out and still be in play,” Phil Mickelson said about the 17th at the TPC Sawgrass.. “It's a very unusual hole in that there's no bail-out. You just have to hit a perfect shot.”
Mickelson added that he just tries to play the hole for par.
“I've seen guys win it on 16 with eagles, like Fred Couples or Davis,” Mickelson added. “You make eagles and birdies on 16 and try to win the tournament. Seventeen is not a hole that too many guys win it on, but I've seen a number of guys lose it.” Most recently Paul Goydos and Sean O’Hair.
“The winner here will have to go through a lot of emotions coming down the stretch until he -- probably until he hits his tee shot on 18, actually even the second shot,” Padraig Harrington said about the TPC Sawgrass. “Seventeen is perfect. It's not a difficult birdie, but it's a very difficult par.”
Ian Poulter agreed. “Certainly on holes like 16, 17 and 18, we all know what can happen around there, and bad shots are punished. I think that's a good thing.”
“The event doesn't end until somebody gets through 17,” said Paul Goydos, who lost The Players to Sergio Garcia in a playoff at the 17th hole. “If you have a three-shot lead playing 18, you probably can work your way around that hole and make 6. Until you hit it on land on 17, the tournament is not over. And then the opposite of that is, in my opinion, if you're four back standing on the 16th tee, going 3-2-3 is not out of the question.”
Goydos even said that if he had to pick one hole to play in a playoff, it would be the 17th island.
“That's a hole, in my opinion, that's the epitome of sudden death; and there's no advantage to any one player,” Goydos said. “All Tour players pretty much are standing on that tee equal. Seventeen doesn't favor anybody.”
Henrick Stenson, who defends The Players this year, said about his final round in 2009, “A four-shot lead, two to go, it's just about not making anything stupid.”
Sean O’Hair, one of the victims of the island par three said, “Seventeen is one of those crazy holes where you just don't want to get too nutty with your target or with your line, especially on that Sunday pin where something silly can happen.”
Based on the comments, it’s conclusive. The 16th at TPC Scottsdale is more sporting, more fun, and definitely more forgiving than the island 17th at TPC Sawgrass.
Perhaps David Toms summed it up best when he talked about the 16th at TPC Scottsdale.
“I think all the guys that come here and play, they know what they're getting into,” Toms offered. “It's one of those things where you just enjoy the moment. I wish we had some more like that out here on the Tour. It would make for some interesting weeks for sure.”
For certain, nobody ever said that about the TPC Sawgrass, especially the island 17th.