Having played and been embarrassed by The Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass twice, I must admit that when watching the event I have a sort of blood thirst waiting for scorecard atrocities to occur. The messier and more embarrassing to the world's best, the better - all for the sake of my bruised ego.
In my own two rounds there, my game was seriously out of sorts. I have three total pars over 36 holes. I've never finished the 9th hole. I suppose my proudest moment here is that I've never found water on 17, although the first time, I skulled a PW so hard it struck the top of the front bulkhead and flew over the green and pond onto dry land behind. Hey, dry is dry.
When you watch the pros compete year after year on a course you've played, it is nice to see some humanizing moments from the game's best. It was certainly impressive to watch Rory McIlroy play tough as nails down the stretch on Sunday, culminating with a scorched drive down the center on the 18th. He wasn't alone. Eddie Pepperell and Jhonattan Vegas' putts at 17 and 48-year-old Jim Furyk stiffing it on 18 still seemed superhuman.
But watching Rory and Tommy Fleetwood on Saturday muck it up early on in the round made me wonder if they knew the range balls were free there. I was relishing the blunders. This past weekend, a handful of follies stuck out as remarkably amateurish.
The pros, they're just like us! At least once in a while...
Rahm tries the impossible, gets the inevitable
The slow-motion car crash that was Jon Rahm and caddie Adam Hayes at the 11th hole stirs one of the most familiar sinking feelings for any amateur golfer. Hayes tried to talk his man out of a bold long hook shot out of a bunker almost entirely over trouble, but Rahm waved him off and went for the green anyway. The splashdown, leading to a bogey, sealed his fate and ultimately took him out of contention.
Sawgrass just turned Rahm into every mediocre golfer who's destroyed a round with unnecessary risks.— Tim Gavrich (@TimGavrich) March 17, 2019
It unfolded so gloriously amateurishly. How many times during a round are we in the trees or sand, facing an impossible carry, and yet have just enough confidence to give it a try? Rahm had everything riding on the shot and went for it anyway.
Caddies at resorts are all too familiar with this "I can do it!" mindset from their paying patrons. Though I've noticed that experienced caddies - especially loopers at places like Pinehurst or Bandon - know that pulling off an unlikely shot helps make the round extra memorable, so they'll typically do the opposite of Hayes and egg players on to give the impossible a go. Even if they haven't seen you hit a single high draw among all your range or on-course swings. Hey, maybe you just need that extra nudge.
Once in a while, you do in fact pull it off, and it becomes a thing of legend - at least to you and maybe a golf buddy or two.
Tiger's lax drop
The USGA says the rules are there to protect us, but there are plenty of times when you've given yourself a penalty more harsh than you should have. For example, have you ever reloaded on a tee after a poor drive only to discover the stakes you blew your ball past are red and not white?
I'd like to see a neurological study that examines a golfer's brain in the moments after they hit an awful shot and the impact on the capacity to think clearly. It might explain why on Saturday at the 17th hole, Tiger Woods and caddie Joe LaCava chose to go to the drop zone rather than pause for a moment and consider their options after his ball went long left off the island green and into the water.
They probably simply went through the motions. Tiger has been playing the course for 25 years and is used to the parade to the drop zone. The fact you can drop on the walkway to the green? Inconceivable. But given the coverage it's received in the days following, Tiger's missed opportunity isn't likely to be repeated.
Ian Poulter's pitch into the water
On Saturday, Ian Poulter was squarely in the mix once again at The Players. That came to a screeching halt on the 4th hole - a relatively short but trouble-filled par 4 - when he hit what seemed to be a tricky but not impossible pitch shot short into the hazard. He tripled the hole en route to a 76 and ended up finishing T-56.
Poulter's gaffe here was relatable for two reasons: The obvious one: we've all chunked wedges and even half-wedge shots embarrassingly into a hazard. I'd rather blow a drive dead right into the next county. Wedges left short are disgusting, total confidence killers. I'm reminded of a recent round of mine at at Barton Creek's Fazio Foothills: the 16th hole, a candidate for signature hole to be sure, has an elevated green with a waterfall in front. Determined not to chunk my pitch, I proceeded to skull my lob wedge well over the green. Bold stuff.
But the true amateur move was that Poulter was given a lucky break and blew it. His fat fairway bunker shot probably should have rolled into the water in front of the green, but it stayed dry short. Who among us hasn't miraculously found their ball against all odds with a chance of a save, only to squander a precious gift from the golf gods?
I don't get so excited at the thought of tournament carnage during The Masters (Bobby Jones wouldn't approve). But The Players has a sort of Florida-Man schadenfreude to it, and a lot of that has to do with the fact the stage is not only designed for drama, but it's always been openly public (pricy at over $500 peak season, but they'll take your money). Watching pros hit a high-pressure golf shot from the same spot we could do so as well if we're willing to make the trek gives that much more weight to the moment to the viewer.
Would you rather attend the Masters or play TPC Sawgrass? Golf junkie I am, put a club in my hand 10 of 10 times.