Alternate Shot: Danger island
It's a mere 137 yards from the tee to the hole. Yet it can be 137 yards of sheer terror golf's equivalent of Freddy Krueger.
The legendary par-3 17th hole, on an island at the TPC at Sawgrass, will once again challenge the psyches, stomachs and skills of the PGA Tour's top players during this week's Players Championship.
But while it can humble even the best golfers, is the 17th more exciting than any hole in golf? ESPN.com's Bob Harig and Golf World's Ron Sirak have different takes on just how thrilling the 17th really is.
The fact that a relatively simple shot, often no more than 130 yards, can make the best players in the world buckle at the knees is just one of the reasons the 17th at the TPC at Sawgrass is the most exciting hole in golf.
Thousands of fans wedge themselves onto the bank behind the green, behind the tee and alongside the walk around the water, all waiting to see a train wreck. When balls fly through the air, they hold their breath in anticipation. Loud cheers or groans tell everyone the outcome.
And yet, for all the angst it causes, the par-3 hole was just the 496th toughest on the PGA Tour in 2004. It barely played over par.
"[For] 361 days a year, it's a very easy hole,'' PGA Tour player Jeff Sluman said. "But Thursday through Sunday at the Players, it's one of the most difficult."
There are several factors that make the hole so compelling. Being late in the round, especially on the weekend, helps. So does the fact that The Players Championship is one of the top tournaments with one of the best fields. The course itself and the 17th in particular have achieved fame for these reasons.
But what really makes the hole special is the feeling that we can hit that shot. Of course, with all the money at stake, all the eyes watching, it is not nearly so easy as plenty of accomplished players prove every year.
Absolutely not. It is a fun hole and an interesting hole, and there is a certain tension level that makes it a compelling hole, but a truly exciting test of golf has something key that is missing at No. 17 options and decisions.
In my mind, the par-5 No. 16 at Sawgrass is more exciting because the player has to make the decision of whether to go for the green in two or lay up. A great risk-reward hole like No. 16 at Sawgrass or No. 16 at Doral's Blue Monster, a driveable par-4 hole tests one of the aspects of choking we tend to overlook: thinking clearly under pressure.
Do you try to drive the par-4 or play an iron off the tee? Do you try to reach the par-5 in two or lay up in front of the green?
No. 17 at Sawgrass presents no options. You are either on the green or in the water. It also presents few options in terms of the kind of shot you can play. If the wind is howling, the best shot to hit may be a low punch-and-run, but it's pretty difficult to run the ball across a pond.
The closing three-hole stretch at Sawgrass is among the best finishes in golf. But while No. 16 requires a decision with the second shot and No. 18 demands clear thinking on the drive and approach, No. 17 demands only one thing from the player: Put the ball on the green.
I want to see a player test his mental strength by wrestling with his inner voices over a decision about what kind of shot to play. The only decision at No. 17 is whether to play your second shot from the tee or the drop area after you hit it into the water.