How the Players Championship became golf’s weirdest event
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — From the second it left his hands, Min Woo Lee’s putt was tracking.
Lee had made a few putts on Saturday at the Players Championship, but nothing quite like the one he’d hit on No. 17 at TPC Sawgrass: a 38-foot, 9-inch bender that crested gently over the big break in the putting surface and tumbled innocently toward home.
“I was going up there thinking and talking to my caddie, like, how can I stop this?” Lee said.
They both knew the answer: hit the hole.
As Lee — and 36,000 others — watched intently, the ball began its final descent toward the flagstick. The crowd slowly crescendoed as it rolled closer, its dimples illuminated in beams of golden sunlight.
Lee had already charged after the ball by the time it zeroed in on the flag. His hand was already raised in the air, finger pointed toward the heavens.
And then something funny happened. It missed.
“Oh man, it was looking good,” Lee said afterward, a smile still plastered on his face. “When I got on to the apex where it was going down, it was inside-left and it was looking so good and it just crept right. That would have been nice. The roars would have been pretty crazy.”
Lee, of course, is right; a make would have been crazy. But in hindsight, a miss was perhaps more fitting.
Lee would go on to finish his round at 12 under for the week, two strokes back of the 54-hole leader, Scottie Scheffler. The two golfers will play Sunday’s final round in the same pairing for the second time.
That is just one piece to come out of Saturday at the Players Championship, a tournament that is quickly becoming the weirdest in professional golf. For yet another year, a glimpse at the 54-hole leaderboard graces us with some of golf’s most wonderful oddities.
At the top of it all is Scheffler, who can escape from Ponte Vedra as World No. 1 with a victory tomorrow but can’t escape without dipping his toes into the strangeness. He took a break from a lifetime streak of cliche answers to tell a reporter on Saturday that he drinks coffee every day of his life … except for the ones in which he plays golf.
There’s Aaron Rai (-9), the two-gloved 28-year-old from England who also dunked a hole-in-one on the 17th on Sunday. Did we mention he still uses iron covers? He’s tied with Chad Ramey, a 30-year-old journeyman who would be threatening the lead had he not made a quadruple-bogey 7 on the 17th on Saturday, an effort that resulted in two drowned golf balls.
Just behind those two is Tom Hoge (-8), who set the course record on Saturday at TPC Sawgrass with a 10-under 62. Hoge, a notoriously sweet tooth, admitted Saturday that he is on a hunger strike.
“It’s actually my complaint that the food here in player dining is too healthy,” he said. “A lot of vegetables.”
“I need a cheeseburger or something.”
Hoge is tied for eighth with David Lingmerth, a Swedish professional golfer who finished T2 here behind Tiger Woods in his Players debut in 2013 … and has recorded four missed cuts and a DFL since.
And then, of course, there is Min Woo Lee, brother of U.S. Women’s Open Champion Minjee. Just 24 years old, he can capture the first win of his PGA Tour career on Sunday in his first-ever Players start. Those who tuned in on Thursday will know it is a minor miracle he made it to this point in the week — a calf cramp nearly derailed his tournament altogether.
The cause of that cramp, he revealed Saturday, was an allergic reaction on his face that caused his eyes to swell to the point of closing. Lee said he stopped eating and taking electrolytes in an effort to subdue the reaction, which caused his leg to lock up during Thursday’s round.
Despite tweeting out “#PickleJuice” and “#Mustard” (in addition to #ImNotAnAthlete), Lee said he did not drink pickle juice in an effort to best prepare for the weekend. Rather, he stuck to coconut water and electrolytes.
“I learned my lesson.”
Nonetheless, the Aussie from golf royalty has the opportunity to close out the largest purse in PGA Tour history on Sunday, locking up a life-changing win in the process.
“Tomorrow could be the biggest day of my life,” he said nonchalantly Saturday evening. “I just crept into this tournament and I’m making the most of it. I’m soaking it all in.”
For a 24-year-old on the brink of history, that’s weird, but after the rest of this week, we’re hardly surprised.