The Players has hit 40 and is looking wonderful as it approaches middle age.
It never earned the label as golf’s 5th major championship, a distinction its creator, former PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman tried to cram down our throats, but it has unquestionably become the signature event on the PGA Tour, commanding the best field and offering the greatest reward.
Maybe the best way to explain it is this: The major championships belong to the PGA tours of the world, The Players is the American PGA Tour’s pride and joy.
In fairness it should be noted that 14 golfers who qualified for the Players aren’t playing. Some are dealing with injuries, but some, mostly foreigners, simply chose to take the week off. The Players doesn’t fit well in the schedules of foreign players who aren’t members of the PGA Tour. Remember when Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood, then neither a member of PGA Tour, said thanks but no thanks to playing in The Players?
Still, few if any tournament in the world boasts a stronger field. Certainly any golfer that moves ticket sales and the size of the television audience will tee it up.
And the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course, site of the tournament for the 31st straight year, is almost as well known by golf fans as Augusta National. That’s particularly true of the last three holes, the “Somewhere Between and Heaven Hell Trio”.
It is the course, by the way, that causes some golfers pause when ranking The Players among their list of must-play tournaments. It is that rare course built in the last 40 years that doesn’t place a great premium on distance. The TPC Sawgrass course, like many of the great old courses, is more for shot-makers. Its target golf, not rip-it-and-grip golf. Phil Mickelson, for example, has even said he might not hit his driver on any hole.
Today’s golfers grew up blasting 300-plus-yard drives, carrying 3 or 4 wedges and putting on lightning fast greens. TPC Sawgrass is that rare “modern” course that makes the world’s best golfers use every club in their bags. The champion is truly the golfer who plays the all-around best golf of the week, not the guy with the hottest putter or the guy with the power to reduce the par-5s to par-4s. The champion is the guy who best manages his game, ignoring temptation for smarts. The list of former winners offers a potpourri of styles, from Tiger Woods, Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson to Calvin Peete, Fred Funk and Lee Janzen.
Who wins this week? Take your pick between A (Robert Allenby) and Y (Y.E. Yang). Okay, you can eliminate Joe Daley, the 2012 Senior Players champion, but everyone else in the 147-man field is capable of winning.
That’s one of the reasons The Players is beautiful at 40.
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