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What happens if you shank it off 17 at Sawgrass and land on the other island?

September 30, 2019

The 17th at TPC Sawgrass is famous for its island green. The only problem? It’s not really an island. That baby is connected to the mainland with a land bridge, which sounds an awful lot like a peninsula to me.

But what many people don’t know (or notice) is that there actually is an island in the lake by No. 17. It sits at the center of the water, home to several well-maintained flowerbeds and at least one camera stand. The island is about 35 yards to the right of the actual green, which means it’s hardly in play. But what if it was? What if your nervous tee shot on this iconic hole wandered all the way over to the true island? What would you do then?

Ridiculous question, you might be thinking. Nobody would ever hit it there, especially not professional golfers. Not so fast, my friends! Fans of horror films may remember Russell Knox splashing three balls in the water at No. 17 in 2016. But skip to the :35 mark in the video below and watch closely.

After a reasonable first effort at the green, Knox — one of the world’s more consistent ballstrikers — fires a cold shank. Even with a front left pin, check out where that ball lands.

Look at that splash! The true Sawgrass island lurks in the background.
Look at that splash! The true Sawgrass island lurks in the background.

Pretty darn close to the island!

It’s a simple case, but I’d like to rest it: the island at 17 is certainly in the shank zone. I’d go so far as to wager that over the course of the year, multiple TPC Sawgrass visitors unintentionally find that island with their tee shots. My question, then, is this: What happens next? Your ball is on land, just 30 yards from the green. But it’s on an island. How would you even play it? What are your options?

If you study that Knox splash photo a little more closely, you’ll notice a camera tower, and a boat lurking beneath it. As I watched golfers play through at last year’s Players Championship, the possibilities began to swirl in my mind.

Finally, I got my answer. Sean Zak and I had iconic PGA Tour rules official Slugger White on the Drop Zone podcast this week to grill him on his playing career, dealing with angry Tour pros, golf’s slow play problem — and this, the TPC Sawgrass question.

I asked Slugger what a player’s options would be if he or she ended up on the island. Could someone give them a boat ride out there?

“Nah, he would just either go to the drop zone or play again from the tee,” he said. “That area right there is still in the penalty area. Unlike a bunker, if there’s an island in the bunker, that is not part of the bunker, but that would be part of the penalty area now on 17.”

Unwilling to accept defeat, I pushed ahead. Could a determined player swim out to play his or her ball from there?

“Yeah, but I wouldn’t recommend it,” White said. “There’s too many gators in there, for one thing, and it’s deep.”

That lifted my spirits somewhat, keeping the dream alive. Here’s the scenario I can’t get out of my mind:

Justin Thomas (who’s been known to hit the occasional hosel-rocket) is in contention with two holes to go at the Players — but as he’s gunning for the back right Sunday pin hits a cold shank over to the island. Undeterred, he strips down to his skivvies and dives into the water, much to the delight of thousands of fans looking on.

Assuming he survives the gators, Thomas hoists himself up onto the island and tracks down his ball. Even better, he discovers that the camera tower, undoubtedly a Temporary Immovable Obstruction, is in his way. Even though he’s in the penalty area, he still gets relief (as we learned with Bryson DeChambeau’s strange rules saga on Saturday). Utilizing the new drop rule, Thomas is able to take a knee-high drop and draw a tasty lie in a flat area. From there, he hits a high, soft flop shot to the middle of the green, pours in a lengthy par putt and becomes a Florida legend forever.

A man can dream.

For more rules madness and a fun, insightful interview with Slugger White, listen to the Drop Zone in the podcast below. And we’d love it if you’d subscribe to the Drop Zone Podcast on iTunes by clicking here.