‘It’s impossible’: Players, caddies battle wind and wild conditions at TPC Sawgrass

TPC Sawgrass went mad on Saturday.

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — What do Scottie Scheffler, Xander Schauffele, Brooks Koepka and Collin Morikawa have in common?

They were all members of this year’s victorious U.S. Ryder Cup team, and they’re all inside the World Top 20, too. On Saturday, they were the first four golfers to play the legendary 17th at TPC Sawgrass — and all four hit their tee shots in the water.

The pain came in all manner of shapes and sizes at the Players Championship when [checks notes] first-round play resumed at noon on Saturday. Take their four varieties of failure as examples: Scheffler went first, grabbed 7-iron and sent it long and left, over the island green and into the water. Schauffele followed, hit 8-iron, tried to flight it and immediately knew he was in trouble.

“Get up,” he said. Wishful thinking. Splash. Short and right.

Koepka followed; he came up short as well.

Morikawa was in the next group. He and caddie J.J. Jakovac had a lengthy, animated discussion as the group ahead reached the green, putting for bogeys and doubles. The discussion continued after the green had cleared; he was worried about his ball ballooning and coming up short. Morikawa addressed the ball. He stepped off. He and Jakovac chatted some more. He finally hit, made a beautiful Morikawa-pass at the ball and watched it head towards the middle of the green — only to hit a wall of wind and the wooden border guarding the front edge. It caromed cruelly back into the pond.

Four golfers. Four water-balls. And the day was just beginning.

Rory McIlroy, battling the elements.
At the Players, the weather is awful. That doesn’t mean nothing’s going on
By: Dylan Dethier

It was difficult to capture the scope of the day’s carnage because it was all-encompassing. The drudgery of Thursday and Friday, which were marred by weather delays, threats of weather delays and inevitable extensions of weather delays, was replaced with chaos on Saturday.

Consistent winds of 25 mph — gusting into the 50s — perplexed players and caddies and battered golf balls mid-air. But it was most obvious at No. 17, where the measurement of failure is particularly binary because the target is an island and failure means a penalty and a trip to the drop zone, where you have to hit the green all over again.

Twenty-one players went through No. 17 on Saturday afternoon, finishing their first rounds. Those 21 players combined for 10 water-balls and a scoring average of 4.1, per PGA Tour’s Sean Martin.

Survive 17? Things only got harder at No. 18, which played into a brutal left-to-right gale and looked basically impossible. Rory McIlroy pounded driver straight down the fairway and hit it a pedestrian 247 yards, leaving a 3-iron approach that came up well short of the green. Most of his peers fared worse; the natural play was to bail out right into thick rough and trees. Scheffler hit his drive right, hit his second shot into the left water and spent nearly three minutes over an 18-inch putt for double bogey. Schauffele hit his drive right, too. He walked off with 8.

Asked just how difficult it was to pull a club at No. 17, Koepka’s caddie Ricky Elliott shook his head.

“You can’t do it. It’s impossible,” he said with a grin. “It’s like, windy up to the front of the green, but once you get to the green it keeps going. So if you give it a bit more, it’s over the back. So you’ve got what, like, five yards to hit it?

“There was a 40 yard difference between Brooks’ 8-iron and Scottie’s 7.”

Pros looked shell-shocked and bleary-eyed as they came off the 18th green. There was only one problem: There was no time for that. Waiting by the scoring area, I turned to a PGA Tour official to confirm that their group was heading back out in just … 10 minutes?

Schauffele walked past and heard the question. “On the tee in five,” he said.

Golf fans’ entertainment was these pros’ battle. Just minutes after surviving 17 and 18, they headed to the 10th tee to take on that same stretch of holes again. Schauffele snagged a sandwich; he ate as he walked. Rory McIlroy unwrapped a GoMacro bar. Zach Johnson started to run into the clubhouse, then stopped, checked the time and thought better of it.

“I guess I just have to go straight to 10,” he said.

There was no questioning the afternoon’s entertainment value, but there were some questioning its fairness. While Thursday’s morning wave played in benign conditions, the afternoon wave has now played in wind, rain, slop and darkness. The morning wave, by contrast, got Friday completely off and wasn’t set to tee it up again until Saturday afternoon — if they’d make it on the course at all.

“They should stop play. The 17th hole is unplayable,” Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee wrote on Twitter.

“Fairly strong odds the winner of this golf tournament will not be on the late-early side of the draw,” Graeme McDowell added.

But they played on, for better and for worse. Golf is an outdoor sport. The draw is never equal and it’s often quite unequal. The afternoon was just beginning. The second round, too. As Scheffler and Co. reached the 17th again, early returns showed the scoring average for Rd. 2 was approaching four-over 76. This time Scheffler found the water again; his miss could be characterized as a semi-shank.

A lot of golf left, as they say. Tough golf.

dylan dethier

Dylan Dethier

Golf.com Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/GOLF.com. The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a 2014 graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.