Mayday At TPC Sawgrass' 17th Hole

The bedeviling par 3 with an island green makes The Players Championship a fascinating event for any rules aficionado

May 6, 2009

By Wendy Uzelac

The Players Championship begins on Thursday, and we in the USGA Rules Department always take time to set aside our preparations for the U.S. Open next month to follow some of the action at TPC Sawgrass -- and the goings-on at one hole in particular. As far as we can tell, the 17th hole has been the scene of a greater variety of golf rulings than any other hole we know. What drama will this unique 137-yard par-3 with an island green offer the players this year?

The 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass has been written about many times, mostly for the "train wrecks" that have occurred over the years. Such as in 1998, when Len Mattiace came to the 17th one stroke off the lead and left the island green out of contention, after hitting two balls in the water (the second from a greenside bunker) and ending up with a quintuple-bogey 8. More recently, in 2007, Sean O'Hair suffered a similar fate. Playing with Phil Mickelson on Sunday in the final group, O'Hair came to the 17 th trailing Mickelson by two strokes. After watching Mickelson play safely to the center of the green, O'Hair went for the flagstick, overshooting the green. He hit his third shot from the drop area, and it also ended up in the water. He finished the hole with a quadruple-bogey 7.

For those of us who conduct Rules of Golf seminars, the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass holds a special place in our hearts, as it can provide material for an entire Rules clinic.

Who can forget Davis Love III's misstep in 1997? He was standing near his ball on the putting green and taking a few practice swings when the toe of his putter accidentally hit and moved his ball. Love thought that it was a stroke, but by definition it was not.

The Definition of "Stroke " states in part that the player has the intention of striking at and moving his ball. Love did not have the intention to strike at and move his ball; he was simply taking a few practice swings near his ball. Thus it was not a stroke, and he moved his ball which was in play and at rest. Rule 18 (Ball at Rest Moved) tells us that he incurred a one-stroke penalty and must replace the ball. Love did not do that. Instead, because he felt he had made a stroke, he played the ball from its new location. Rule 18 further tells us that if the player does not replace the ball, he will incur the general penalty of two strokes instead of the one-stroke penalty. Love went on to hole out and, without realizing it, recorded a score that was one stroke lower than what the Rules said he should have. Unfortunately, Love didn't bring up the issue in the scoring trailer, nor had any officials been apprised of the incident before he signed and returned his card. So he had signed and returned a wrong card ( Rule 6-6 Scoring in Stroke Play ), the penalty for which is golf's most severe: disqualification.

Another unusual rules incident that was widely talked about - and viewed - had to do with a mischievous seagull during the 1998 Players.


Click on this link to see what happens when this " outside agency " decides to wreak havoc with a ball in play. (It seemed there was some confusion over whose ball was affected; our video mentions that it was Steve Lowery's, but we were recently told it was, in fact, Brad Fabel's ball. While the video has the incorrect name, the ruling is still correct and makes for highly entertaining viewing.)

And we can't write about the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass without mentioning Fred Couples' ability to save par with his "hole in 3" in 1999. It remains one of the most memorable uses of the stroke-and-distance option of the Water Hazard Rule , as mentioned in our recent article, " A Watery Grave ."

So stay tuned to this year's Players Championship. Let's hope that we get to see another hole-in-one to add to the six made on this hole in Players Championship history. There may even be a train wreck or two - but probably not one as unfortunate as in 2005, when Bob Tway put four balls into the water on his way to a 12. But that's only a drop in the bucket when you realize golfers put some 120,000 balls in the water each year at the 17th. Like I said, it's a hole that holds a special place in the hearts of any fan of golf - and of the Rules of Golf.

Wendy Uzelac is Director, Rules Education Projects. If you have a question regarding the Rules of Golf, call (908) 234-2300, or click here to send your query via e-mail.


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