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TPC is next-best thing to a major

Ron Green Jr.
Ron Green Jr., a former Observer staff writer, will write golf columns occasionally for the newspaper.

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  • THE PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP

    Site: Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

    TV: Golf Channel (Thursday-Friday, 1-7 p.m.) and NBC (Saturday-Sunday, 2-7 p.m.).


PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. How many times have you been given the same wise advice – be yourself?

Don’t try to be something you’re not.

That applies to The Players Championship, too.

That whole “fifth major” thing?

Let it go, if it’s not already gone. This isn’t the LPGA Tour where a fifth major was created just to have one.

There are four major championships in men’s professional golf and The Players Championship isn’t one of them.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The Players Championship is brilliant at what it is – a special event with a deeper field than Oscar night played on a course that even non-golfers recognize because of the magnificently menacing par-3 17th hole.

Nothing compares to the Masters. The U.S. Open and British Open stand on their own, and the PGA Championship has what The Players Championship lacks – historical relevance.

Where does that leave The Players Championship?

Standing alone, having separated itself from every other non-major championship in terms of prestige, importance and entertainment value. It has created its own category, defined itself by the almost carnival-like nature of the Stadium Course and grown into a rare event that can bring perspective to careers.

“You have a phenomenal field and the golf course is entirely unique,” Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee said. “It asks things of players that are not asked the rest of the year …”

Ask any player to name the five events on the PGA Tour they would most like to win and most lists will have the four majors and The Players Championship.

For a tournament that started 39 years ago at Atlanta Country Club and was played three other places before moving to the Stadium Course in 1982, it’s as much about the course as the champion.

Flash back to what players were saying the first time they played the Pete and Alice Dye creation carved out of reclaimed swamp land.

Jack Nicklaus said he was never very good at landing 5-iron shots on the hood of a car.

Fuzzy Zoeller wondered where they put the windmills.

And Tom Watson asked if it was against the rules to carry a bulldozer in his golf bag.

Through the years, however, the course has been retouched and softened in spots, maturing nicely. It’s still not everyone’s favorite course but it’s more than the biggest purse of the year that brings the best field in golf to play in the literal backyard of the PGA Tour offices.

“It’s one of the premier tournaments in the world to win,” said Brandt Snedeker, who has missed the cut in his last four Players starts.

Snedeker exemplifies the curious nature of The Players Championship and the Stadium Course. With his steady ball striking and generally brilliant putting, Snedeker would figure to be a perfect match for The Players Championship. It hasn’t happened.

Since winning in 2001, Tiger Woods has one top-10 finish at The Players Championship. Phil Mickelson won the only year he contended. Rory McIlroy has never made the cut. Jim Furyk and Vijay Singh, two of the steadiest players of their generation and local residents, have not won at the Stadium Course.

But Craig Perks – as unheard of as Derek Ernst was a week ago – won. So did Tim Clark, who made it his only PGA Tour win in 12 seasons.

It’s a course that demands tee shots in the fairway; otherwise the accumulation of awkward approach shots will eventually destroy a player.

“It’s a major championship style course that if you don’t think your way around and you don’t play real well, you don’t have much chance,” Davis Love III, a two-time champion, said.

Ultimately, there is the short 17th hole with its island green, like something out of a video game, only nerve-wrackingly real. The 17th looms there, late in the round and at the end of the tournament, but its presence is felt from the start. Its genius is in making an otherwise simple shot seem tightrope dangerous. Its legacy is what The Players Championship has become because of it.

Ron Green Jr. is senior writer for Global Golf Post (www.globalgolfpost.com) and a contributor to the Charlotte Observer. Reach him at rongreenjr@gmail.com.
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