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No. 17 at TPC Sawgrass: Love it or hate it?

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By the numbers, No. 17 on The Players Stadium at TPC Sawgrass would rank as one of the least remarkable holes on the PGA Tour.

It measures just 130 yards and is one of the largest greens on the golf course —  a combination that would ordinarily invite a barrage of birdies at most tour stops.

Except The Players Championship isn’t most Tour stops, and No. 17 isn’t any ordinary hole.

Over the years, the notorious island green has taken countless dreams of winning the Tour’s richest prize and buried them in a watery grave. It’s for that reason that No. 17, which requires nothing more than a straightforward wedge, has the uncanny ability to haunt the world’s best players before they even set foot on the first tee.

For proof, during NBC’s coverage of The Players, notice how many times it replays someone sneaking a glimpse of the island while standing in the 16th fairway.

Combine the mind games of No. 17 with the spectator-friendly design of TPC Sawgrass’ The Stadium Course and what you have is perhaps the best theater in all of golf.

Click here to read about the full day GolfWRX Managing Editor Zak Kozuchowski spent at No. 17 last year during the tournament.

Every fan can surely agree that the atmosphere surrounding the 17th on Sunday at The Players is one of the most dramatic and raucous in the game. Where many of us disagree, however, is our opinion of the hole itself.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to the island green: love and hate. The lovers defend the 17th as a pure test of golf. Execute a relatively easy shot, or pay the ultimate price. Plain and simple.

The haters, on the other hand, decry the island green as a tacky abomination, and curse Pete Dye’s sick sense of humor. They argue a significant number of golfers are defeated before they even arrive, a fate that seems contrary to the spirit of this beautiful game.

I’ve been fortunate to tee it up on the 17th three times, and managed to find dry land — plus Old Man Par — on every occasion. Despite this string of good luck, however, I would have to align myself as a hater.

Yes, I love the drama that the 17th brings to Sunday at The Players, but the purist in me firmly believes that a truly great hole gives the golfer multiple ways to make par. With an island green, there’s only one.

But I’m just a lowly weekend warrior with a laptop. What do you think?

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D.J. Jones is a lifelong golfer and plays to a 6 handicap when he’s not too busy pursuing his other great passion – travel. Tag along with his golf and travel adventures on his blog, The World of Deej.

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. 8thehardway

    May 8, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    From the pgatour website

    No. 17 has yielded 518 three-putts or worse since 1992, the second most of any non-major hole on the PGA TOUR

    least/most water balls
    29 (2003, 2010) / 93 (2007)

    I guess it comes down to how you like your adrenaline. For me it’s a matter of balance; No. 17 places too much emphasis on one hole and isn’t in keeping with the rest of the layout.

    As a matter of balance, 17 forces ; were the course out of balance

  2. Gary Lee

    May 8, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    The 17th is a great finishing hole for a tornament. I played it once and birdied it.

  3. Dudley

    May 8, 2013 at 11:32 am

    From an architecture standpoint, I really do not see what is great about the #17th hole at TPC. A green in the middle of a lake….what is so genius about that? In golf terms, I guess it comes under the category of going to a auto race to see a wreck….watching PGA golf pros hit their ball into the water. A sign of the times…good for TV golf…..but there are 17 other holes and some of them are great architecture….#17 is not one of them….

  4. David

    May 7, 2013 at 4:37 pm

    It’s exiting of course, but its a bad hole.

    Up and downs after missing a green can be just as thrilling if not more.

  5. Puddin

    May 7, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    Anyone have the stat for “in the water” vs. “on the green”? Pros or amateurs? I played there once in a company outing and 1 out 10 hit the green that day out of 40 players. Curious to know over the years what the Pros percentage is.

  6. Chris

    May 7, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    D.J. fun article.

    #17 is the defining hole on this course and I love the drama. If I were lucky enough to play TPC Sawgrass 17 would be on my mind all day and it would also be the first thing I would tell everyone about after my round.

    Golf IS a complete head game, especially at the Pro level. We’ve all weak wristed chips, choked on short puts and have holes that own us before the round even starts. Being able to overcome and produce when our mind is trying to hold us back is one of the best parts of golf.

    In the modern game it’s seems a stretch for anyone to be a purist anymore. Short putter vs Long putter, GPS vs Walking yardages, over sized drivers, super charged “premium balls,” Wedge grove size etc.

    Technology allows all of us to potentially play better, the emotional aspect is what keeps us all in check.

  7. Steve

    May 6, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    I don’t see anything wrong with it. If it was like a 180 yard par-3, then I’d have an issue. But these guys should be able to hit this large green from 130 the heavy majority of the time. I understand wanting more than 1 way to make par, but it’s 130 yards. If it were a 130 yard par-3 with no water, it would be the easiest par-3 on tour. With the island, it tests the nerves of the greatest players in the world. I think it’s fun.

    And I don’t really think a “slight mishit” would take away par. If you go at the middle of the green, putting it in the water is a pretty large mishit for one of these guys with a wedge in their hands…

    • Steve

      May 6, 2013 at 8:43 pm

      Obviously strong wind/gusts can make a huge difference with this as well though. I still like it though.

      • D.J.

        May 7, 2013 at 8:57 am

        You’re right, Steve. It takes a pretty big miss by these guys to put it in the water. But for the average amateur, that margin for error is a whole lot smaller…

        • Steve

          May 7, 2013 at 3:04 pm

          You’re absolutely right. I was just looking at it from the pro perspective. For amateurs, the margin of error is much much smaller and would make this hole a heck of a lot more difficult. I still think it’s fun though. It’s a unique challenge that most courses don’t have, so I enjoy it.

    • Harry

      May 9, 2013 at 9:48 am

      Exactly, this talk of purest is silly IMO. Even for a 10 hcap this is one of the easiest holes on the course….the only real test is mental which is the ultate test in golf 16 & 18 are much tougher holes which force you to shape either your tee shot or approach, 17 only requires you not to choke which is a demand on every hole anyway so where is this fuss coming from? I just don’t get it guys….I have played sawgrass 3 times and love the course am 2 for 3 hitting 17 green but have neverade par on 16 or 18….17 is only hard when there’s something on the line which is what a good closing hole should be! You “purest s” need to examine what that term really means…

  8. Troy Vayanos

    May 6, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    I can see the positives and negatives with this hole. The drama and excitement it brings to a golf tournament is a positive. However, from a purist point of view it can extremely unforgiving and potential ruin a players chances of victory. A slightly miss-hit shot gives the players no chance of still getting up and down for par.

    • D.J.

      May 7, 2013 at 8:48 am

      I agree with you Troy. With the exception of that little pot bunker, there is no saving par after a miss hit. Well, unless you do like Freddy and hole it out from the tee after dunking the first in the water…

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Gear Dive: USC head golf coach Chris Zambri on the challenges that will come with the new NCAA rules

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In this Special Edition of The Gear Dive, USC Men’s Head Golf Coach Chris Zambri discusses his thoughts on the new NCAA mandates, how to get recruited, and the pros and cons of recruiting can’t-miss superstars.

  • 9:55 — Zambri discusses thoughts on new rule
  • 17:35 — The rule he feels is the toughest navigate
  • 26:05 — Zambri discusses the disadvantages of recruiting a “can’t miss” PGA star
  • 32:50 — Advice to future recruits
  • 44:45 — The disadvantages of being tied to an OEM as a college golf team

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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A new NCAA transfer rule gets passed… and college coaches are NOT happy

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New rules just keep on coming from the NCAA; college coaches are not happy about this one.

In a summer of block buster coaching changes, the NCAA has done its best to stay atop the news cycle by making some significant changes, which will impact the recruitment process. In an article two months ago entitled “The effect the NCAA’s new recruiting rules will have on college golf,” I spoke to college coaches about a new rule, which will not allow unofficial or official visits until September 1 of the players Junior Year. To go along with this rule, the NCAA has also put in place a new recruiting calendar which will limit the sum of the days of off campus recruiting between a head and assistant coach to 45 days starting August 1, 2018.

The 45-day rule will have several potential impacts for both recruits and assistant coaches. For recruits, it is likely that after a couple (2-3) evaluations, coaches will make offers and ask for speed responses to ensure they are not missing out on other options. I also think you will see far less assistant coaches recruiting, which ultimately hurts their opportunities to learn the art of recruitment.

The new transfer rule

In the past, players were subject to asking their present institution for either permission to contact other schools regarding transfer, or a full release.

Now, starting October 15, players can simply inform their institution of their intensions to leave and then start contacting other schools to find an opportunity. This is a drastic shift in policy, so I decided to poll college coaches to get their reactions.

The poll was conducted anonymously via Survey Monkey. Participation was optional and included 6 questions:

  1. New NCAA Legislation will allow players to transfer without a release starting October 2018. Do you support this rule change?
  2. Do you believe that this rule will have APR implications?
  3. Who do you think will benefit most from this rule?
  4. What are the benefits of allowing students to transfer without a release? What are the potential harms?
  5. New NCAA Legislation will make December a dead period for recruiting off campus. Do you support this legislation?
  6. What implications do you see for this rule?

In all, 62 Division I golf coaches responded, or about 10 percent of all Division I coaches in Men’s and Women’s Golf. The results show that 81.25 percent of DI coaches said that they do NOT support the rule change for transfers.

Also, 90 percent of coaches polled believe that the rule will have APR implications. APR is Academic Progress Rate which holds institutions accountable for the academic progress of their student-athletes through a team-based metric that accounts for the eligibility and retention of each student-athlete for each academic term.

The APR is calculated as follows:

  • Each student-athlete receiving athletically related financial aid earns one point for staying in school and one point for being academically eligible.
  • A team’s total points are divided by points possible and then multiplied by 1,000 to equal the team’s Academic Progress Rate.
  • In addition to a team’s current-year APR, its rolling four-year APR is also used to determine accountability.

Teams must earn a four-year average APR of 930 to compete in championships.

While the APR is intended as an incentive-based approach, it does come with a progression of penalties for teams that under-perform academically over time.

The first penalty level limits teams to 16 hours of practice per week over five days (as opposed to 20 over six days), with the lost four hours to be replaced with academic activities.

A second level adds additional practice and competition reductions, either in the traditional or non-championship season, to the first-level penalties. The third level, where teams could remain until their rate improves, includes a menu of possible penalties, including coaching suspensions, financial aid reductions and restricted NCAA membership.

Clearly coaches are not happy about the move and feel that the rule unfairly benefits both the student athletes and major conference schools, who may have a swell of calls around middle of October as Student athletes play great fall golf and look to transfer. Although coaches are unhappy about the new rule, it is very difficult to predict what direct impact the rule will have on teams; coaches are extremely smart and understand recruiting and development within the frame work of college better than anyone can imagine. As a result, I think coaches will react in many ways which are impossible to predict.

The survey also asked, “new NCAA Legislation will make December a dead period for recruiting off campus. Do you support this legislation?” For this, coaches were more divided with 45 percent in favor of the rule, and 55 percent not.

Although coaches supported the legislation, many (41/62) suggested that it would potentially hurt international recruiting at tournaments like Doral and the Orange Bowl and they had, in the past, used December as a time to recruit.

As we move forward with these changes, here are some potential things that recruits, and their families should consider, including consequences of the rules:

  1. With a limit of 45 days and these transfer rules, it is likely that coaches will be doing significantly more investigation into a player’s personalities and family situation to make sure they know what they are getting.
  2. Coaches may also start skipping over better players in favor of kids they think will be a good fit and are likely to stay
  3. Rosters may get bigger, as coaches are trying to have larger numbers to potentially offset transfers

Unfortunately, we enter a new era of rules at the worst time; we have never had a more competent and deep group of college coaches, the clear majority of whom are tremendous stewards of the game. Hopefully this rule will have insignificant effect on the continued growth of college golf but only time will tell.

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Opinion & Analysis

Is golf actually a team sport?

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Do a little research on the top PGA Tour players, and what you’ll see is that most (if not all of them) employ a team of diverse professionals that support their efforts to perform on the golf course. Take two-time major champion Zach Johnson; he has a team that includes a caddie, a swing instructor, a sports psychologist, a physiotherapist, an agent, a statistician, a spiritual mentor, a financial adviser… and of course his wife.

“I know this seems like a lot, and maybe even too much,” Johnson readily admitted. “But each individual has their place. Each place is different in its role and capacity. In order for me to practice, work out and just play golf, I need these individuals along the way. There is a freedom that comes with having such a great group that allows me to just play.”

My best guess is that Zach Johnson commits hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to this team, and I assume most players on the leading professional tours are making significant investments in their “teams.” There are three questions that jump out at this point. First, is a team necessary? Second, how can anyone compete without one? And third, how to pay for it?

From the club player to the collegiate player to the aspiring/touring professional, everyone can benefit from a team that offers individual instruction, support, guidance, and encouragement. Such a team, however, needs to be credible, timely, beneficial and affordable.

To be affordable, serious golfers should build their team one piece at a time. The obvious first choice is a swing coach. Golf swing coaches charge from $100-$1,500 per hour. The cost explains why players have historically been responsible for their own practice. The next piece, which is a newly developing trend, should be a performance coach who specializes in the supervision of practice, training and tournament preparation. Performance coaching on-site fees range from $200 to $3,000 per day.

So is team support essential for a player to be as good as he/she can be? My research says it is. When a player schedules a practice session, that session is usually based on what the player likes to do or wants to do. “Best Practices” utilized by world-class athletes suggest strongly that great progress in training always occurs when someone other than the player writes, administers and supervises the programs and sessions. The team approach says the player should focus on what needs to be done. Sometimes what the player wants to do and the things needed to be done are the same thing; sometimes they aren’t.

Now for the question of how to pay for it all. Wealthy players, or those with substantial or institutional support, have access to what they need or want… whatever the cost. If you use an on-site coach, teacher or other professional you will be paying for blocks of time. Fees can be hourly, weekly, monthly, yearly or lifetime arrangements based upon several factors. If your coach of choice is not local, you can also incur travel and per diem expenses. The process of paying for someone’s time can really add up. You can review what I charge for various services that require my attendance at edmyersgolf.com.

For those of you who don’t have easy access to on-site expertise or don’t want to incur the expense, I want to offer an approach that business, industry, colleges/universities and entrepreneurs are turning to: “Distance Coaching.” Distance learning is made possible through modern technology. In today’s world, expertise can be delivered using FaceTime, Skype, texting, email and (old fashion) phone calls. Textbooks, videos, specific programs and workbooks can be accessed from anywhere at any time by anyone with a desire to do so… and who knows what’s coming in the future. Through Distance Coaching, individuals can employ professional expertise on an as-needed basis without incurring huge costs or expenses.

The primary team expenses that can be avoided are those associated with face-to-face, on-site visits or experiences. Distance Coaching brings whatever any player needs, wants or desires within financial reach. For example, a player in Australia can walk onto the practice ground and have that day’s practice schedule delivered to a personal device by his/her performance coach. The player then forwards the results of that session back to the coach — let’s say in Memphis, Tennessee. The player is then free to move onto other activities knowing that the performance, training and preparation process is engaged and functioning. In the same vein, that same player in Australia may have moved into learning mode and he/she is now recording the golf swing and is sending it to the swing teacher of choice for analysis and comment.

So what is the cost of Distance Coaching? Teachers, trainers and coaches set their own fees based upon their business plan. Some require membership, partnership or some other form of commitment. For example, I offer free performance coaching with the purchase of one of my books or programs, as do others. Where face-to-face, on-site fees for performance coaching is available for $200 a day, the same expertise from the same coach can cost as little as $50 a month using the distance format, tools and technology. I highly recommend that players responsibly research the options available to them and then build the best team that fits their games, desires and goals. I’m happy to forward a guide of what to look for in a performance coach; just ask for it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Back to Zach Johnson; he recently admitted that his lack of recent success could be traced to his lack of focus and practice discipline. Additional, he concedes that he has been practicing the wrong things. “It goes back to the basics,” he said. “I have to do what I do well. Truth be told, what I’m practicing now is more on my strengths than my weaknesses.”

Zach Johnson has a great team, but as he concedes, he still needs to put in the work.

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