Island green at Sawgrass never more fearsome in a big wind

Justin Thomas, right, putts on the 17th green during a practice round at The Players Championship golf Tournament, Wednesday, March 9, 2022, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) (Lynne Sladky, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Dustin Johnson took cover from a driving rain and could not have been happier. His tee shot to the notorious island green on the TPC Sawgrass was safely on land and the horn sounded to stop the round.

His smile made sense 25 hours later.

When the first round of The Players Championship resumed Saturday at noon, the wind was ripping out of the left and into the players, gusting at times to nearly 40 mph. There was never more uncertainty than navigating 146 yards.

Scottie Scheffler was the first. He flighted his shot low, and when the gusts died, his ball went over the back of the green. Xander Schauffele was next. His tee shot caught a big gust and came up 15 yards short of dry land. And then Brooks Koepka stared down his tee shot, right up until the point he saw the splash.

“It's the worst hole ever with 35 mph wind and nowhere to bail out,” Schauffele said.

The island green is as recognizable as any hole in golf, the prime attraction at The Players Championship, and the hillside left of the hole filled quickly with fans wanting to see carnage. They got their money's worth.

There were 29 balls in the water in the 6 hours and 30 minutes of play Saturday, after only four water balls the previous over some 12 hours of play the previous two days.

Koepka had it as bad as anyone. He took double bogey to close out the first round, leading to a 72. His ball was in the air in the second round when he started laughing. What else could he do? Another splash and a triple bogey on his way to an 81, matching his career-high on tour.

“It's luck,” Koepka said. “The problem is the grandstands in the back, and you flight it low enough like Scottie did ... you almost flight it too low and the wind doesn't touch it.”

The wind was strong all day, and full strength for that first group of the day. They went straight from the 18th to the 10th hole to start the second round. Just his luck, the wind regained strength on one of the most exposed parts of the Stadium Course.

Koepka hit 8-iron from 205 yards on the par-5 16th. Turning back into the wind to face the island green on the 17th, he went with another 8-iron.

“Hit it 105,” he said.

The worst fate fell to Honda Classic winner Sepp Straka. He was one shot out of the lead late in the day when he tugged his shot well left and hung his head, knowing where it was headed. Straka went to the drop zone and hit another shot into the water left of the green. He made a quadruple-bogey 7, wrecking a great round. He still was 1-under 143 through 36 holes.

Chesson Hadley made a 12-foot birdie putt at No. 17 on Friday in the first round when it was still and only lightly raining. He faced it again late Saturday afternoon was 3 under for the tournament when he came up short and took bogey bogey.

So imagine the look on his face when asked the most nervous he felt over a shot.

“Really?” he replied.

“I mean, it's blowing 100 on 17 in my face,” he added.

Days like this feed hyperbole, along with a little sympathy. Hadley thinks the ball was actually blowing back toward him when it hit the water. That might not have been hyperbole.

“You don’t want to back off because that just adds to the nerves,” Hadley said. “It was 117 front, 137 hole. I chipped a flighted 8-iron and it went straight in the air. Nice 5.”