Sport Golf

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Padraig Harrington: Sawgrass can make you look foolish very quickly

The 17th tee-box at The Players Championship is not a place to be hanging around . . .

Padraig Harrington

Published 11/05/2016 | 02:30

Rory McIlroy takes on the notoriously tricky 17th during The Players
Championship at Sawgrass. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy takes on the notoriously tricky 17th during The Players Championship at Sawgrass. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

All set for The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Florida, the Sunshine State. What's not to like?

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This is a great tournament at a great venue. Everything about it is big. It has the best field in golf, a Major quality field. The prize fund is the biggest in our sport, and to win here means you have to be right on top of your game.

Traditionally, The Players is known as the 'Fifth Major.' I wouldn't argue too much with that, but I have my own criteria. If I hadn't won the Irish Open, I'd want to win the Irish Open ahead of Sawgrass, and having won some Majors, clearly I'd like to win the US Open and the Masters as my next choice. After that, I'd pick the Olympics, and I'd take Sawgrass next.

My debut in The Players was in 2001, and I finished tied-33. My best performances were in 2003 and 2004. In '03, I finished joint second with Jay Haas to Davis Love III, who won by six shots. I remember Davis had an unbelievable last round on a tough, windy day.

The year after, I was the one who had the good finish. I shot 66, and was five-under for the back nine, but Adam Scott made a great up and down on the last from 35 yards to beat me by a shot, just when it looked like I was going to be in a play-off. Thankfully, I've gone on to win some Majors since or I'd be rueing that one.

PRESSURE

Sawgrass is a pure test of golf in that it challenges everyone and favours no-one. I suppose it's a little bit like Augusta. If you're going to win the tournament, the golf course puts you under a lot of pressure coming home. There are big shots you have to hit, pressure-filled shots.

You can pick any hole on the golf course but even on 16, you hit a good second shot there you can make an eagle but go into the water and you're making double-bogey.

There's a lot of big shots that can make you think the golf course ain't so bad but it can make you look foolish very quickly. I think it's one of those courses that whoever wins there is going to win under the most amount of pressure. Unlike a lot of golf courses where there might be two or three holes to cause concern, there's probably 12 holes at Sawgrass that are very intimidating.

In that sense, The Players was literally built for the spectators. They are able to witness history each May by seeing the best players take on golf's purest test.

The 17th, of course, with its renowned island green, stands out every year as a piece of theatre that entertains the galleries. For the players, it's a potential score-wrecker, as well as a possible source of embarrassment. It can go from being relatively OK, to being a real nasty.

You actually start preparing for it halfway down the 16th. After you hit your second shot on 16, as you're walking down to the green from about 150 yards short, you can see the 17th, so you're watching the players in front to see whether they're long or short. You're paying attention to the flag to see how it's moving, because there's a big American flag on a camera tower there which is very helpful for judging the wind.

After that, you walk down to the green. You're hoping there's not a delay on the tee so you can go into your pre-shot routine. It's not a place to be hanging around.

The weather conditions and the firmness of the green can have a massive effect, and I found that, over time, you're more likely to hit it long than short at 17, which can also be a problem. You stand there, and no matter where the pin is, you say to yourself: 'What club definitely carries, whether the wind gusts or not,' and then, 'What club won't go over the green, whether the wind gusts or not?' If you can hit it on the green, and two-putt from 30 feet, you're happy.

I'm hoping for a good start tomorrow. The missed cut at the Wells Fargo wasn't helped by a touch of 'flu but no excuses. Going into that tournament I felt good about my game, so I've got to be positive.

For tickets and travel information for next year's event, visit ThePlayersChampionship.com

Irish Independent

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