The 17th hole at the TPC of Sawgrass is the worst golf hole in the world on which to start a sudden death playoff.
It’s not just that there is no room for error. It’s that there is no room for uncontrollable externalities such as wind, rub of the green, or timing.
Paul Goydos hit his ball in the water because a gust of wind caused it to upshoot. On almost any other golf hole in the world, he would have had a chip. Or, if the hole had an area to bail-out, then he could have planned the miss. But, he had no control over this shot.
What if either players ball had ricocheted off pin at 17 and into the water? That’s rub of the green, and there would be nothing they could do about it.
What if some unruly fan – a tipsy man or tired young boy – had screamed during that one critical second of Sergio or Paul’s backswings and ultimately caused via ball-in-water the loss of $600,000 in winnings and a prestigious title?
The 17th at the TPC of Sawgrass offers no solution to these unpredictable and more importantly uncontrollable outcomes. The “sudden” in sudden death playoff means it ends abruptly when one player scores lower than another on a hole. The “death” should come at the hands of the other player’s superior play, not a gust of wind or one of many other externalities.
The 17th hole is too extreme for a sudden death playoff. Imagine if the sudden death playoff were to start on the 18th hole, which was basically playing as a par five late Sunday afternoon. There would be a premium on driving it in the fairway, but should one of the players hook the ball into the water, they would still have a chance to make a five with the slight expectation that the other player would have to do well, even from the center for the fairway, to make a par four.
Better yet would be a multiple-hole playoff like we see at the British Open or the PGA Championship. Although this would be a burden for the Tour to adopt on a weekly basis, it would not be asking too much of THE PLAYERS, an almost-major. Three of the four majors have multiple-hole playoffs. Only the Masters is sudden death.
But, really. Even if THE PLAYERS sticks with the sudden death playoff, they need to start on any hole but 17. It’s just not fair to the players, the fans who have to trek back out there, and the television broadcast that has the air of excitement sucked out of it the second player one dunks his ball in the water.
Will there be a change for next year?