Is the island-green 17th at TPC Sawgrass exhilarating… or awful? 2 course raters debate
GOLF’s Top 100 course panelists are among the most respected and well-traveled course evaluators in the game. They’re also keen to share their opinions. In this GOLF.com series, we’ll unlock their unvarnished views on all questions course-related. The goal is not only to entertain you but also to give you a better understanding of how to understand and appreciate golf course architecture.
The par-3 17th at TPC Sawgrass gets a lot of publicity, but does it deserve it? We asked two GOLF course raters to break it down.
Jeff Lewis: It’s not a good hole. If it were not the penultimate hole at a significant golf event, but instead the 4th hole on some random resort course, everyone would agree that it should be blown up. The green isn’t large enough for the exposed nature of the site and the firmness that the Tour likes to achieve for the tournament. Random outcomes don’t determine the best players. And 17 produces way too many random water balls.
Steve Lapper: My esteemed colleague isn’t all wrong. But he also has no appreciation for the sadomasochistic entertainment we plebes look for in a professional golf event. Surely, Pete and Alice Dye did. They knew the spectator would appreciate the sphincter-tightening look on the face of every player walking onto that tee. Whether pro or amateur, the hole and its near-finishing position creep into the mind of every golfer striking a 140-yard-ish approach earlier in the round. Is it a single-dimension hole? Sure, but it’s iconically wicked fun.
Lewis: Then why not have water on both sides of the 18th fairway and in front of the green? Good architecture presents a two-step process to the player. Choose then execute. “Hit it here” is a simple-minded and unsophisticated ask by the architect. I would also say Robert Trent Jones Sr.’s 16th at Augusta is bad architecture that gets a pass because of the drama associated with it. Contrast both holes with the risk-reward presented by the 12th at Augusta.
Lapper: Once again, Jeff has a worthy point, yet might be missing the greater one. His architectural analysis is spot-on and the examples at Augusta National are rock-solid. However, the drama of TPC Sawgrass’ 17th begets either “Macbeth” or “The Sound of Music” — tragedy, or joy. For an amateur, hitting the green is exhilarating and watering one, a misery, albeit leavened with a dollop sardonic comedy. Golf is and will always be a combination of all the above, and the 17th elicits that variety. Just listen to all the oohs and aahs and decide for yourself.
Lewis: Ask yourself this about Sawgrass: Why does it produce so many oddball results? It’s twice as likely as a U.S. Open course to produce a top-10 finish for a player ranked outside the top 50, even though a U.S. Open has more of its field outside the elite. Why did Phil Mickelson, arguably a top-10 player of all time, play the course so poorly? The place just doesn’t identify the best player. It generates a random number.
Lapper: Ahh, Jeff, now I’m getting worried about you. That’s too shallow an argument. The likes of Rory, J.T., Cam Smith, Jason Day, Tiger (twice), Davis Love III, and even Phil all have that golfing Oscar on their shelves. Interestingly, the overlap and corollary are with the U.S. Open. Is Craig Perks that much different than Gary Woodland? I think not. Your illogic suggests that tough produces randomness. Does that go for Oakmont or Merion’s 17th? Perhaps, but I’d say the closing stretch at Sawgrass tests the best to produce their best, and isn’t that due to premier risk/reward architecture? I’m sure we’ll argue this sometime soon over a good walk spoiled. Until then, time to see the ophthalmologist!