Air Canada Direct Flights Makes it Possible to Watch It Live!!
By Rick Drennan
The Players Championship is a wicked viper that slowly uncoils itself over four days in early May.
For competitors, it hisses at them.
And it changes many into something they never were: complainers, and club throwers.
The Par 3 17th at TPC Sawgrass only adds to their angst.
It hisses at players when they march down the 16th fairway and catch a furtive glimpse of it on their right.
It hisses when they’re on the tee block and mulling over which club to hit.
It hisses when their ball is in the air and they’re still unsure if they caught it flush.
And it hisses in their hotel room at night because they know they’ll have to play it again tomorrow.
Last year Rickie Fowler played it three times on Sunday, twice in the playoff, and birdied it every time.
His win was one for the ages.
The hole isn’t long (usually a wedge or 9-iron for the pros), but it’s like watching a high wire walker performing without a net.
Or seeing a car veer into a wall.
A slight miss and you’re dead in the water.
The hole defines The Players Championship, not because of its toughness, but because of its placement.
The course slowly uncoils itself to the 17th.
Then it starts to rattle and spit venom.
That’s where fortunes (and reputations) are won or lost.
In fact, the 17th is a metaphor for The Players.
Bill Hughes, general manager of the fabled course in Ponte Vedra, Florida, talks about his event with religious fervor, and wears responsibility for its success like sackcloth.
He knows the human condition can only manage so much stress.
To that end, organizers of The Players“let the tournament breathe,” he says. “We start to light the candle about 45 days before the event.”
Like most successful tournaments, the template for The Players is firmly in place, but it’s also elastic. Each year, it is tweaked slightly.
It’s a philosophy Matt Rapp, executive director of The Players, also embraces – along with the entire organizing committee.
We have to let the tournament uncoil at its own pace, he said.
With a stirring history, the best field in golf, and one of the biggest viewships on TV, the Players has become much-watch TV, or a pleasure to attend in person.
It’s near noon and Hughes has just finished a roundtable discussion on ‘How to Achieve Your Career Aspirations’ at the giant PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando.
He’s joined on the panel by Christine Pooler, general manager of fabled Merion Golf Club, host of the wildly successful 2013 U.S. Open.
She says tournaments are broken down into three equal parts: the buildup, the subsequent event, and the aftermath.
The latter is the most difficult to manage.
“Be prepared for the hangover, plan for the hangover,” she warns. “Your staff and your membership will be impacted.”
Pooler says successful tournaments create heightened expectations.
After the Open at Merion, the staff and membership were at such a fever pitch, even if a cook served a bowl of hot soup to a member in the weeks afterwards, it wasn’t quite hot or tasty enough.
Hughes knows all about great expectations.
Last year, they were met and exceeded at The Players.
Rickie Fowler’s historic birdie binge (six under in the last six holes), and his birdies on No. 17 produced riveting drama.
How can the tournament top that?
Hughes says all organizers can do is prepare an event so players perform to the best of their abilities.
It will uncoil in its own way.
The Fowler comeback could have ended at 16 when his second shot to the Par 5 16th cleared the water by a mere two feet and led to eagle.
It could have ended at 17 when he took dead aim at a pin perched precariously on a thin bough of the green.
But on this day, the 17th didn’t hiss. At least not at Ricky!
It provided moments of poetry, and a stunning finish.
This May (May 12-15), the course will again uncoil in its own fashion and the 17th hole will loom large in the final analysis.
Maybe that’s why The Players is most compelling golf tournament in the world?
For information on attending the Players Championship visit http://www.pgatour.com/tournaments/the-players-championship.html/.