‘I don’t think it’s worth the risk’: Why this 17th hole pin position is unusable at Players this week
Rain is slated to roll into the Ponte Vedra area Wednesday afternoon and not relent until Sunday. Cold air and wind is coming, too. By Saturday, temperatures will be in the low-50s with wind gusts of — hold on to your hats, boys! — up to 25 mph.
The conditions will make life difficult not only for the players but also for the officials who are responsible for setting up the course. One particular predicament: hole locations on the island green at the Stadium course’s signature par-3 17th. High on the Tour’s list of things to avoid is balls spinning and/or blowing off the green and into the water.
How the Tour’s setup sharpies are strategizing about 17 came to light in a Hard Knocks-style behind-the-scenes video the Tour shared on social media. (Note to the Tour: more of these videos, please!) The footage shows a handful of Tour-types sitting around a conference table earlier this week, including Gary Young, VP, rules and competition, and Robby Ware, senior tournament referee.
“What’s your thinking on 17?” Young says to Ware.
“I’m thinking right now I’m only going to go down front-left on Saturday,” Ware says of his intended pin positions. “I’m going to have two up top. If we’re playing through the rain, I don’t think it makes any sense to use that lower-right on Thursday and Friday.”
“We all know where it’s going to go on Sunday,” he added, referring to the traditional back-right location in the fourth round. “So probably back-center and back-left rounds 1 and 2. I don’t think it’s worth the risk to use that front-right.”
This Golf Channel graphic from 2019 gives you a good sense for the green’s swales, and how precise players need to be to get their tee shots close to the customary hole locations. When it’s cold and breezy, the shots get that much more difficult — yes, even if they are only, in the case of the front pins, less than 130 yards.
“That Saturday afternoon is the day we need to just watch and see what the forecast says,” Ware said.
The players will be watching, too. Well, some of them.
“I don’t get too wrapped up in the draw or what’s the weather going to be like Friday or what’s the wind going to be, because at the end of the day, weather people are wrong all the time,” defending champion Justin Thomas said Tuesday. “There’s no reason of getting too wrapped up in it.”
He might feel differently, of course, should he arrive on the 17th tee with a 25-mph wind blowing into him.
“I’ve heard horror stories from Tiger and Freddy and some guys about having to hit 5- or 6-iron into 17 on those cold north wind days,” Thomas said. “When you get wind and cold temperatures like that, it’s just a different animal, and it’s really just a survival-type thing.”