Wednesday, March 13, 2019

What To Look For: 2019 The PLAYERS Championship

The PLAYERS Championship actually started in 1974 at the Atlanta Country Club. It then moved to Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth the following year before moving to the Inverrary Club in south Florida in 1976. Then, the event found its permanent home in the Sawgrass area of Ponte Vedra Beach. It actually started at Sawgrass Country Club’s Oceanside course which I’ve heard great things about. Then in 1982 it moved to the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.

Prior to the 80’s, Robert Trent Jones, Jr. was the preferred designer of the Tour, particularly on their major championship courses. Having grown up playing a lot of RTJ courses when I was a junior golfer, the words ‘big and bold’ always come to mind when I think of his courses. Of course, some of that was influenced by the Tour’s desire to make the courses bigger so they could seat more fans and have more corporate seating.

But right about the late 70’s to early 80’s, the Dye design became en vogue. Dye had the ability to create a course that could hold the fans, but did some innovative stuff like using railroad ties around greens and bunkers and of course…the island green emanating from the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass.

I’m not a historian of golf architecture, but it’s my opinion that Harbour Town and the 17th at Sawgrass really made Pete Dye’s career as an architect. Initially, many of the players…including Jack Nicklaus (who helped him build Harbour Town in 1967) did not like Sawgrass. But, the 17th was so different, iconic and artistic that every golfer wanted to play it. And with Harbour Town being established as one of the very best courses in the country, I think it helped establish Pete Dye as the ‘go-to architect’ of the 1980’s.

The players started to like Sawgrass much more when they re-contoured the greens. Over the years it’s been appreciated, but conditioning has always been a concern. Mainly it’s the greens that are the issue. Whether they were super slow in the 90’s to the issues with grass dying off on holes like #4 the past few years. If you get a Tour player that doesn’t like Sawgrass, it’s usually a bomber that loses their advantage of power off the tee because of the design of the course.

That’s because the 10 par-4’s consist of 5 dogleg right designs (#1, #4, #5, #7 and #15) and 5 dogleg left designs (#6, #10, #12, #14 and #18). Contrary to popular belief, there’s not a lot of working the ball both ways off the tee on Tour. Thus, it becomes difficult for a long hitter to control the driver on the holes designed against their natural ball flight because Dye has made those holes just narrow enough to get those players into trouble off the tee.

The final Critical Hole on the course is the par-4 18th.

This is the most difficult hole to drive the ball on the entire course as the average tee shot will travel about 280-285 yards and find the fairway roughly 65% of the time with 6-8% of the tee shots finding the water. The other roughly 25-30% of the shots that miss the fairway end up having approach shots blocked off by the trees on the right side.

Moving the tournament back to March was a great idea. May can get unbearably hot in Florida. This is also not the most spectator friendly event as there is no bleacher seating by the range and the range is far away from the ropes. The parking lot is about the size the of the actual course and just walking from the parking lot to the course is a hike and the course is difficult to navigate because you can’t watch multiple holes and multiple shots from roughly the same area.

The move to March also moved the PGA Championship to May. I think this allows for a greater variety of courses for the PGA Championship to play. While May can be hot in Florida, Arizona, Texas, etc. it is do-able to have a major there in May. Not so much in August.

Having said that, all reports I’ve received from Sawgrass is that the course is pretty firm and that just favors the short, but accurate drivers of the ball more.

Projected Winning Score: -14


Francesco Molinari +2,200
Bryson DeChambeau +2,500
Tommy Fleetwood +2,800


Paul Casey +4,500
Lucas Glover +6,600
Matthew Fitzpatrick +7,000
Sung-Jae Im +10,000
Byeong-Hun An +10,000
Ryan Moore +17,500
Chez Reavie +20,000
Adam Long +30,000


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