The *second* scariest shot in golf? Brooks Koepka had a surprising answer
Brooks Koepka doesn’t spook easily. He treats pressure-packed majors like they’re money matches with his bros. He spends more time in the gym than Conor McGregor. He’s gone toe-to-toe with Bryson DeChambeau and Brandel Chamblee, and a couple of years back took a dig at then-world No. 1 Dustin Johnson. Not even Tiger scares Brooks. “He’s not going to hurt me,” Koepka said in 2019, “so what’s there to be afraid of?”
But there is at least one thing that makes Koepka swallow hard: the island-green par-3 17th at TPC Sawgrass.
A short-iron to the largest green on the course would seem like an ask Koepka could pull off in his sleep, but in five career Players Championship starts, Koepka’s results on the 17th have been nothing short of nightmarish. In 19 tournament rounds, he has played the hole in a cumulative 15 over par, a run that has included one triple, two doubles, two quads and seven water balls. Koepka did find a sure-fire way to avoid disaster at last year’s Players: by staying home. (A knee injury kept him out of the field.)
This week, Koepka is playing another hazard-laden course, PGA National, site of the Honda Classic. Ahead of the tournament, he was asked to reflect not on the scariest shot in golf — because “it’s generally accepted that the tee shot on 17 at TPC Sawgrass can be the scariest,” the inquiring reporter said — but the second scariest. The tee shot at 12 at Augusta? The blast from the Road Hole bunker? The approach on Pebble Beach’s par-4 8th, hard against the Cliffs of Doom?
Koepka didn’t hesitate.
“The drop zone from 17, because I’ve been there a lot,” he said, referring again to Sawgrass. “I’ll be honest with you, I’ve played that hole — if they throw that stat up, who’s played it the worst over the last five years, it’s probably me. Yeah, I haven’t played that hole very well. But the second — the drop zone up there, that’s probably the second.”
Koepka’s not alone in his thinking. The shot from the drop zone is a nervy 80-yard pitch that requires players to pick the ball just-so to apply the right spin to get close to the hole, especially when the pin is on the back-left corner of the green, as it was in the first round last year. In fact, getting the ball close to that hole location is so challenging that Golf Channel’s commentators debated on the air last year whether it might make sense for players to re-tee instead of drop.
“I like this decision,” Paul Azinger said from the booth. “With the pin where it is, the angle from the drop zone is terrible. And you just hit the shot so you know what you did wrong.” (You can read more about the pros and cons of that strategy here from my colleague Luke Kerr-Dineen.)
Ask Bob Tway. At the 2005 Players, he dunked his tee shot on 17 before infamously splashing three more balls from the drop zone. After his fourth pitch finally found terra firma, Tway three-putted for a 12, still the worst score on 17 in Players history.
“It’s a tough one,” Phil Mickelson said of the drop-zone pitch in 2013. “It’s easy to just knock it on to the middle of the green and accept your 5, but that’s not easy to do when you’ve just knocked one into the water.”
Koepka is healthy again, and showing signs of life with his third-place finish in Phoenix two weeks ago. He missed the cut at Riviera last week, but opened with a two-under 70 at always-dangerous PGA National that left him within chasing distance of the leaders. The Players Championship is in two weeks. It would be no surprise if a certain hole isn’t already occupying real estate in Koepka’s brain.
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