Despite the silent protestations of the suits that occupy the corner offices at PGA Tour headquarters, The Players Championship is not golf’s fifth major. I say this not to disparage the event, but to remind fans that the week is not a watered-down PGA Championship; it’s one of the most enjoyable and fresh tournaments of the year.
The Players began in 1974, but really came into its own after moving to Pete Dye’s newly-designed TPC Sawgrass in 1982. Sawgrass broke the mold on what a tournament golf course should look like, as it featured mounding on nearly every hole intended for spectator viewing. It also presents the most dramatic closing stretch in golf, a three-hole finish that is the gold standard in the school of heroic golf design.
The 16th hole at TPC Sawgrass is a 523 yard par 5 that gives the players their best scoring chance of the day. Most players will take the chance and go for the green in two, and as long as they keep their golf ball dry, a feat easier said than done, the player is almost always rewarded with a birdie or an eagle. However, the walk up to the green also presents the first unobstructed view of the 17th, which is more than enough to wake up the butterflies resting in each player’s stomach.
The 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass is quite possible the most “mainstream” golf hole on earth. It’s island green is iconic to even the most casual golf fan, and while it is the epitome of artificial design, it never comes off as contrived. Describing the 17th is impossible without regurgitating the cliches normally associated with it: thrilling, dangerous, and striking. No other hole in tournament golf brings more to the table than the 17th.
The 18th hole at TPC Sawgrass puts the “risk” in risk/reward. Playing close to 470 yards, the tee shot is perhaps the most intimidating on tour. However, despite its penal nature, fortune favors the bold on the final hole at Sawgrass. If the player takes an aggressive line with a driver and carries the ball over 300 yards, they will leave themselves a manageable wedge into the last green. This brute of a hole tests the player’s nerves on every swing, and is a worthy anchor to the finishing stretch at TPC Sawgrass.
Notably, this year will mark the last time the Players is played in May. 2019’s event will be played in its original March date to accommodate the PGA Championship’s move from August to May. This change will solidify the Florida swing and put a spark back into the pre-Masters portion of the schedule. Also, a March date for the Players will make it easier for the maintenance staff to set up the course exactly how they want.
For golf fans, The Players is a much needed bridge between the Masters and the US Open. It may not be a major, but it’s a tournament that boasts the stoutest field all year on a formula-one track. Sawgrass always produces an exciting leaderboard, except for when it doesn’t: looking at you Stephen Ames and Craig Perks.