PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Is it premature to call for changes to the 12th hole at TPC Sawgrass?
I will concede that it could be a little hasty to pan a redesigned hole after only one day of competition at The Players Championship, yet it seems clear that the “drivable” par-4 12th hole offers more tedium than theatrics.
In a desire to add fun and excitement to the Players, the PGA Tour invested millions to redo the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, which included a makeover of No. 12.
At 305 yards, the hole is well within reach off the tee for most of this week’s Players field. Yet, only 26 of the 144 competitors hit driver or 3-wood in going for the green, making the drivable 12th little more than a short par 4. Most of the top players teed off with mid-irons.
“I'll lay up four days,” Louis Oosthuizen said after a 3-under 69 that included a par on the 12th hole. “They did it wrong in the sense of the left side should be higher and right lower, because if you hit it middle green, everyone's going to hit a right?to?left draw in there. If you hit a pitch at middle green, it should sort of bounce forward. Or, if it goes off the right side, it's a tough chip from the right. To me, if you hit a good shot now with how it is, everything is raised on the right and it's lowered on the left. If you hit a little draw in there, it pitches middle green; you're going to go left in the water, and to me that's a bit unfair. They want you to hit driver, but they don't really give you that landing space.”
Jim Furyk, playing in his 22nd Players Championship, agrees that the hole needs more work, but he looked at it from a different viewpoint: not how it will play this week for the 144 professionals but for the other 51 weeks of the year for resort guests.
“I think it's a bad golf hole because the fairway's too narrow,” he said. “I’ve never seen a good par 4 where you hit 7?iron off the tee. But if it [tee shot] runs down farther to the right, you've got no angle. You can’t see the surface of the green because those mounds are in your way. The only pin you could get to would be the back left. So, you have to lay it back more in that 115, 110 yards, at the closest, to have some shots. If an amateur’s got to hit a wood into that area, it's a really narrow fairway. It's all right if you hit 6?iron into it, but it's not a shot I would want to hit 3?wood into.”
A similar lack of drama inhibits par 5s on Tour that are not reachable in two, with players laying up on their second shots to within wedge distance.
The same logic shapes so-called drivable par 4s. The hole must be within reach for most of the field. In Thursday’s first round, only 18 percent went for the green.
Some players were concerned about the first-round hole location, which was 32 paces from the front and 5 paces from the right edge. Even that location meant different options to different players.
For Jordan Spieth, it was not a hole location to chase, although he withheld judgment on the redesign until he can play it a few more times. Derek Fathauer saw a green light, and he made one of seven birdies for the 26 who tried to drive the 12th green. There were 29 birdies among the 118 who laid up.
“The pin was tough to get at,” Fathauer said. “It was a hard wedge pin, so that's why I hit 3?wood.”
Fathauer said he likely will try to drive the green in each round, if the weather isn’t prohibitive.
Long-hitting Tony Finau likes the 12th because of his left-to-right ball flight, which is the preferred path into the green.
“It's not an easy line to commit to because you're starting it over water, but it's a shot that I practice, making sure that I can just commit and trust it when it counts,” Finau said. “I like the hole. I know a lot of guys that don't, but right off the bat I thought it was a great hole.”
After three more days of play at the 12th, Tour officials will review the hole’s scoring average, but that statistic shouldn’t matter.
The key question for the new 12th hole should be whether it provides suspense and anticipation. Putting wedges into the hands of the best golfers in the world means more mundane golf.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli