Commentary

The 17th at Sawgrass holds a solid place in golf lore

Few holes in golf resonate among passionate and casual fans like the 17th at Sawgrass, site of this week's Players Championship.

Updated: May 7, 2008, 3:30 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- The only thing that sank faster than his golf ball was his heart. From exhilaration to embarrassment, from contention to consolation, Sean O'Hair endured the vagaries of the game's most famous island green.

"I got kicked in the ass on 17," O'Hair said after knocking not one, but two, balls in the water that surrounds the famous par-3 17th at the TPC Sawgrass, home to this week's Players Championship.

He is far from alone.

The hole has been reviled and revered, panned and praised. From the tee, some 130 yards away, the green appears gigantic, a huge target at which the best players in the world can take dead aim. It should not be a big deal. Not for pros who make the use of a short iron appear so simple. But it is.

O'Hair learned that the hard way. He trailed Phil Mickelson by two strokes when he stood on the tee a year ago, two holes remaining in the Players Championship. He told his caddie and father-in-law, Steve Lucas, "I'm not playing for second.''

[+] EnlargeSean O'Hair
AP Photo/Stephen MortonSean O'Hair memorably dunked a couple of balls into the water at 17 last year.
But he misjudged the wind, thinking it was blowing more from right to left than from behind. Pumped up, he flew his tee shot clear over the green and into the drink. Then he knocked it in again from the drop area. O'Hair plummeted from second to 11th (he shot 76) and saw more than $250,000 go the way of the fish.

"I was a little shocked and deflated," O'Hair said.

His golf balls were among a record 94 that found the water surrounding the infamous green last year, with 50 of them being deposited there the first day. The hole awaits again.

"It is like having a 3 o'clock appointment for a root canal. You're thinking about it all morning and you feel bad all day. You kind of know sooner or later you've got to get to it." -- Mark Calcavecchia

• Divers enter the 4-foot-deep water that surrounds the green 12 times a year to extract golf balls, and they're paid 7 cents for each. And they keep busy, as an estimated 120,000 balls manage to miss the green.

"There's something that water does to people. It's a fun hole. I'm glad it's here. They didn't even consider lengthening it because it's the perfect hole the way it is. You wouldn't design an island hole on every course in the world, but it seems to work here. It's cool.'' -- Geoff Ogilvy

• During the third round of the 2005 tournament, Bob Tway hit two shots that flew the green and went into the water. His third and fourth attempts hit the front of the green and spun back into the water. He finally hit the green with his fifth attempt -- and then three-putted for a 12, the highest score in the hole's history. Tway was tied for the 10th before the miscue, and went on to tie for 72nd.

"You're playing great,'' Tway said. "All of a sudden, in one hole, you might as well be finishing last.''

"It's gimmicky, but I think it's part of this event. And it's one of the reasons why this event has become what it is. It serves a purpose here.'' -- Adam Scott

"You try to suppress that hole until the last minute. You really do. You try to suppress it until you walk off the 16th green. You don't want to think about it early in the round. You know you want to make a lot of birdies before you get there.'' -- Phil Mickelson

• For all the angst the hole has caused, it has yielded six aces during the Players Championship: Brad Fabel, first round, 1986; Brian Claar, third round, 1991; Fred Couples, fourth round, 1997; Joey Sindelar, first round, 1999; Paul Azinger, third round, 2000; Miguel Angel Jimenez, first round, 2002.

• To create the island green, 50,000 cubic yards of dirt had to be removed from the area that surrounds it.

"I don't think any of us really thought of the 17th hole. It just kind of arrived. We just kept digging. Actually, I think my wife, Alice, came out one day, looked at the area and said, 'Let's just make it an island green.''' -- course designer Pete Dye

• The 17th green measures 3,192 square feet. The course average is 4,500 square feet per green.

"I don't think a hole like that should decide a tournament.'' -- Tiger Woods

"Until you actually play it under conditions when your livelihood is at stake, it's not that intimidating. But Thursday through Sunday, your belly is jumping a little bit and you just understand that your name is on your bag, and there's a reason you've just got to step up and hit the shot. And sometimes, even then, you're going to hit balls in the water." -- Jeff Sluman

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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