The PLAYERS Championship: Not Enough Birdies & Eagles. Too Many Car Wrecks

Posted by: mike May 17th, 2017

By Kathy Bissell

Reaction to The Players this year has been mixed to say the least.  

Ratings were down from previous years, and most people are saying it was the contenders at the end. While that is likely part of the reason, it might just as easily be that the course was a little too severely set up for any human, much less guys who hit the ball 325 yards without breaking a sweat.

TPC Sawgrass played a little bit more like a U.S. Open, where a lot of people lost over the period of four days, a drip, drip, drip torture of lost shots, instead of one guy going out and winning it the way Rickie Fowler did in 2014.

Now, not every year is going to be one where a guy finishes like Fowler, as even he admitted.

“I’m not always going to finish the way I did to finish – I think it was 2,4,3,3,2,3,” he said on Tuesday.  

He’s right. Almost nobody is going to finish like that.  In fact, it may never happen again in tournament history.  But when you have the most exciting finishing holes in golf, which TPC Sawgrass has, hands down, you like to actually see an exciting finish. And we just didn’t have that this year. We do not want a U.S. Open to break out at The Players, but that’s what we got.  

Even the new drivable par 4 didn’t produce excitement because most of the players elected to not try and drive it due to the hole’s design, which seemed to do nothing but repel balls. It’s not drivable when it repels balls into the water and repels them into swales and kicks them off the green no matter what. It’s just plain unhittable. While many said there wasn’t a good enough reward for trying it, about half the field gave it a rip on Sunday. By then, what did they have to lose?  

The week started with problems.  On Thursday Jason Day got to 5-under par through 11 holes, and starting on the back nine, he ran into bogey trouble at the end of his round, at the 6th, 8th and 9th.  He finished 2-under.  The lead was just 5-under so he wasn’t in an impossible position.The Players

“I was thinking actually 7-8-under after the second hole, and I did give myself opportunities coming in, I just, unfortunately, had a couple of mistakes,” he said.  Drip, drip, drip.

Adam Scott was on the 17th tee at -6-under par.  Then, after he hit a ball in the water, he wasn’t.  Compounding the problem, he hit another in the water at the 18th and dropped to 2-under.   Drip, drip, drip.

Some of that is mental, of course, but some of it is the golf course plus imperfect play.

Sergio Garcia made an ace, one of the three most exciting shots of the tournament, at the 17th to put him back in it, moving him up from 3-over to 1-over. That was Thursday.   

Then it got windy. And by Saturday, it was severely windy. I was nearly blown down watching people tee off at the first hole. The combination of wind and a really severe test of golf did a lot of damage. So much for all those people who said it wasn’t as good as in March when it was windy. The difference in March is the course was usually so wet that balls stopped without much roll. The year Greg Norman set the tournament record, the greens acted like damp sponges.  Kind of a splat when balls landed.  With wind and fast conditions, all the surfaces must have been like hitting granite counter tops.

In short, by the time we got to Sunday there was a 70-car pile-up with 50 or 60 blown transmissions and bumpers stuck on with Gorilla tape.  

Phil Mickelson, who owns one of the best short games ever in the history of golf, barely made it to Sunday. He had the second tee time.  Dustin Johnson, world No. 1, was 11 strokes back of the lead. Fowler was nine back. Rory McIlroy and Jason Day were eight. Garcia started out four back and ended up 10 back.  Sure, they were on site, but by then, they were in need of mechanics and tow trucks.  

Now while people like car wrecks in golf, they also love birdies. That’s why the two most popular holes at TPC Sawgrass are the 16th and 17th because those two have both golf agony and golf ecstasy. Unfortunately, this time around it was too much of the former and too little of the latter.    

Yes, the name brand leaderboard was missing, but it’s easy to cheer for anybody who’s making a charge with birdies and eagles.  Perhaps that’s the real reason why the ratings were down.   No birdies.

While people tune in to see Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy and the new Masters champ, Sergio Garcia, and Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, and while they really want to see two or three of them duke it out to the end, I’m convinced that they would have watched had there been more scoring excitement. People tune in to see birdies and eagles, I’m convinced, not a litany of catastrophes strewn over the course from start to finish.  Anybody who knows how to play golf knows how to make a triple or a quad.  What we want to see is somebody create miracle shots. Something that’s water cooler material. Something that makes you ask yourself, how did he DO that.

This year’s Players despite the one or two miraculous golf shots played by Si Woo Kim, just did not have the requisite number of Oh-my-God-how-did-he-hit-that shots. It had too many moans for disasters, too much mercy applause.

Who was left standing may just as easily been the result of course set up as indifferent play, but none of the players said that. So, knowing how good, as a group, all these professionals really are, I just wondered, given a day to think it over, if the reason things turned out the way they did was course set up as much as anything else.