Saturday, May 7, 2011

TPC Sawgrass #16-18 - Golf's most exciting finish!

Where else could you shoot anywhere from 8 to over 20 on a three hole finishing stretch? I will never forget the excitement of watching Craig Perks (2002) playing the last three holes eagle, birdie, par with chip ins on #16 and #18 to win. Or seeing the replay of Bob Tway taking a 12 on #17. Whether you are a pro or an average golfer you have a chance at making an eagle on #16 or snowman on any of the final three holes at TPC Sawgrass.

Hole #16 is a very reachable Par 5, if you can find the fairway with your drive. Ideally, a slight draw will get you within 3 wood range or less. Push it right off the tee and you will have a bad angle or you may find the bunker. Left is more than likely jail, unless you are DL3. If, you don't have the kahunas to go for it or have hit a poor drive, make sure your lay up is at least 100 yards out. If you look at the above pictures you will notice a huge tree guarding the left side and anything from 50 to 80 yards out will need to be hugging the right side of the fairway to have a clear shot into the green. To me this is an easy par, as long as you keep your approach out of the water. The risk of going for the green trying for eagle makes this a very exciting hole. Hit your approach shot short and you will catch the front bunker; long left and you will find yourself in a small pot like bunker. **Make sure to check out the pin position on #17 when you are walking up the 16th fairway.**

The Island green on the 17th has probably been on your mind on and off since you arrived at the course. The range can be a good indicator of what to expect with the wind when you make it to the 17th tee. Once you get on the tee you will not feel the full effect of the wind and it would be wise to have made some mental notes while warming up on the range. The range and the 17th are 180 degrees opposite direction of each other. The last time I played TPC the wind was coming out of the NW at about 30 mph. Usually, I would be playing a 9I into the green which is around 130 yds to the center. This time I thought I needed a 6I and ended up finding the water long and left. My re tee I used a 7I and found the center of the green. The other time I found the water it was to a back middle pin and I thought I had hit the perfect shot, only to see my ball bounce twice and disappear. If I had only checked the pin while on 16 fairway I would have noticed how little room there was between the pin and back edge. My tip for your first try at the 17th is to play to the middle of the green, no matter where the pin is located. If you don't make it on the first try keep on hitting until you put one on. It is better to have taken a big number and made it on then to have to live with not making it on at all. Whatever you do don't go to the drop zone, unless you are wearing a skirt. If you can't hit one on off a tee, you will probably chunk or skull the next one off the turf. Don't feel rushed, the groups waiting for their chance will understand. I once stood and watched a foursome rinse at least three dozen balls before they moved on. You may play other Island holes but none will be more exciting or make you sweat as the 17th at the Stadium course. This the one that all others are compared to.

The 18th hole is the number one handicap hole at the Stadium course, as are 25% of all the 18th holes played on the PGA tour. Nothing is more satisfying than to "earn" a par or birdie to finish off your round. One of the worlds architectural guru's, once said, "A finishing hole should be the climax of the round and pose a strong risk." With water guarding the whole left side of this long dogleg there is plenty of risk. The first time I played this hole I hit what I thought was going to be a nice tee shot. I watched a little draw run out and slowly trickle left until it nearly came to rest on the wood piling and drop into the lake. Since that time I have been playing more right and coming in at a distinctly inferior angle. As all great architects do, they give you the best angle only by luring you into the highest risk shot. I am now left with a long iron or hybrid into a deep tiered green that is protected short right by grass moguls and a bunker; long by a deep bunker and left by water. As most holes are at Sawgrass, there just isn't a great place to miss a shot. Pete Dye has done a wonderful job at the Stadium course of defending par at the green complexes.

Only once have I have shot in the 30's on a nine here, 38. It was only when I was able to par these last three holes and make no double bogeys on all of the others. What a great feeling it was to think that I had finally got the best of this string of finishing holes for once. It is so hard to play nine, let alone a round at TPC Sawgrass, without making a double bogey or worse. Just watch the final day of play at The Players Championship and see how many players fold up like cheap tents on #16-#18.

Other notable long holes: #2, #5, #7, #9, #14.

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