After DeChambeau hints at taking an unconventional route on a hole at TPC Sawgrass, PGA Tour sets up new internal O.B.
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – A golfer knows that he has arrived when the powers-that-be specifically make a change to a course setup during tournament week just to stop him from doing something that he may or may not have been serious about anyway.
DeChambeau had pounded a 377-yard drive over water at the dogleg-left, par-5 sixth hole at Bay Hill, leaving only an 88-yard bunker shot. He made birdie and eventually won by one stroke.
The question posed to DeChambeau, who leads the PGA Tour in driving distance, at 323.5 yards: “People have been talking about what you would do on No. 6 for about two months now. I'm just curious if you've looked ahead to Sawgrass, and is there anything goofy can you do there?”
His response: “Oh, man, that's a great question. I have thought about sometimes on 18 going left into 9. But we'll see, with the stands and everything, if it's even worth it. But that's really the only one that I could see being unique and a little different as of right now. There's really not another hole.”
When DeChambeau threw out the idea of a potential drive over a hazard and into an adjacent fairway, which would force a demanding second shot over the same hazard to get to the green at the 462-yard 18th hole, it’s hard to believe that anyone in a position of authority would take it seriously.
Then, of course, in his pre-tournament news conference Tuesday here at TPC Sawgrass, the subject was broached again. DeChambeau answered it in this way: “I'll probably give it a try, but it's most likely not going to happen. If there's stands – I haven't seen it yet, but if there's stands – then there's really no reason to go for it, when I could just drive it 100 yards from the green if I get a good wind normally. It's not really that big of an advantage, but taking the water out of play and having an easier second shot, it may be easier. I don't know.”
Somehow, the PGA Tour bought into what almost certainly would be a strategic blunder. Officials decided to change the playing field, issuing a news release Tuesday afternoon that declared an internal out-of-bounds now exists from No. 18 tee to No. 9 fairway, exactly where DeChambeau discussed possibly hitting it.
It’s not the first time that a player’s strategy was undercut by golf officials. In the 1979 U.S. Open at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, Lon Hinkle found that the dogleg-left, par-5 eighth hole would play an estimated 75 yards shorter if he were to drive the ball left, into the adjacent 17th fairway, which he did. Hinkle made birdie en route to a 1-under 70 and a share of the first-round lead.
The USGA acted quickly and planted a 15-foot Black Hills spruce between the two holes, daring any determined player to eliminate the dogleg. Hinkle still cleared the tree, but he faded from the leaderboard, finishing T-53.
The difference between the TPC Sawgrass and Inverness examples is that Hinkle’s decision to play down the 17th fairway created a significant advantage. For DeChambeau to hit his tee shot into the ninth fairway and then play back across the water to the 18th green seems to be more folly than strategy.
It likely would have been a “Tin Cup” moment had DeChambeau decided to go 18-to-9-to-18, a look that the PGA Tour, at its flagship tournament, would not had liked. After one or perhaps two shots were to find the water, the late designers Alice and Pete Dye likely would be looking down and laughing, knowing that their masterpiece has stood the test of time.
Now, had DeChambeau taken the route less traveled at No. 18 this year and found some measure of success, then a reaction by the PGA Tour for 2022 might have made sense. But to change the course during tournament week, just because DeChambeau answered a throwaway question, seems unnecessary.
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