New 12th at Players’ Stadium Course is high risk, questionable reward

Ryan Young/PGA TOUR

New 12th at Players’ Stadium Course is high risk, questionable reward

PGA Tour

New 12th at Players’ Stadium Course is high risk, questionable reward

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Rickie Fowler authored one of the most exciting finishes in the growing history of The Players, playing his final six holes of regulation in 6 under and eventually winning in a three-man playoff two years ago. To this point of his career, it remains his signature moment, and everything about the finish was high-wattage electric. 

This year’s Players, which begins on Thursday, hopes to infuse even more excitement on the back nine, transforming the formerly pedestrian 12th hole – “a plain Jane kind of a hole,” says last year’s champion, Jason Day – into something that will get the party started well before players step to the reachable par-5 16th and please-stay-dry, famous island 17th.

So the 12th hole has been shortened to 302 yards, hoping to lure players to stand on the tee, unsheath drivers, and produce a bold swing for the fences. It may even be shortened for a round or two, putting 3-woods into players’ hands. But the 12th, in its current state, may be far too much risk for seemingly little reward.

Fowler even has looked ahead at the weather forecast – the first three rounds, winds are expected to be helping, and off the left – but he sounds as if he’ll resist any temptation to make the hero play.

Laying up? That wasn’t the idea, and the hope, when the hole was redone following last year’s championship.

 “A lot of it is going to depend where the wind’s at, where the pin’s at, but for the most part I would say there’s a pretty good chance that I’ll lay up three days and maybe go once, if not lay up all four,” Fowler said. “That’s probably not what they want to hear with it being a drivable par 4 this year.”

No, that’s definitely not what the tournament organizers want to hear. The old 12th hole measured 358 yards, was played mostly with an iron off the tee and 9-iron or wedge in, and was the easiest hole on the golf course. Pass the No-Doz. The new hole measures less than 300 yards to the front edge, has a fairway bunker down the left side, three smaller bunkers right of the green, and also is protected along the left by water, towards which the enlarged green slopes. 

Players have been feeling out the new-look 12th in practice rounds, and discovering quickly that the slope and firmness of the green propels many balls left, down the slope and into the water hazard. The last thing a player wants to do on an already-demanding golf course is be scrambling for par and possibly making 5 on a dinky 302-yard bunny of a hole.

“With regard to the green,” said Day, who shot 15-under 273 a year ago, winning by four, “I was here last Saturday and it was running 12.8 (on the Stimpmeter) and that’s pretty slick. If you hit it right, either on the fairway – the fairway chip is not too bad, but if you hit it in the bunkers or the rough and get yourself out of position, that green slopes away pretty quick. I played it yesterday, and some parts that have slope on the left, if you just dropped a ball and let it just kind of trickle down, it would go in the water. So, any sort of speed with anything is going to go in the water.

“Now granted, if you do hit a shot to the green and you pull it, you can drop it up there and try and get up-and-down. But once again, I think if you miss it right, I think it’s a worse-off miss than actually going left.”

In other words, laying up with anything from a 3- to 5-iron and wedging on is likely to give a player four birdie looks over four days and would seem the far more prudent play.

Commissioner Jay Monahan smiles when asked about the new 12th, because he believes the hole is doing exactly what was intended when the changes were made: It already has players talking, and soon the fans will have a chance to form opinions, too. The old 12th never elicited as much as a whisper. It simply was a way to get from the 11th green to the 13th tee.   

“I think I’m hearing exactly what I wanted to hear, what is everybody talking about what it is, whether it’s risk, whether it’s reward, how they’re going to play it,” Monahan said. “We have seen a lot of the local guys playing it different ways in the months coming into it and trying to assess how they’re going to play it. To me that’s really the expectation of what we would create here, which is for there to be a lot of dialogue and discourse and strategy around how to play the hole.”

Steve Stricker would rank as one of the shorter hitters in the field this week (by averaging 278 yards, he ranked 175th in driving distance last season), but when he stepped to the 12th tee on Tuesday during his practice round, he knew what he was going to do. The 50-year-old pulled driver from his bag, carried the far edge of the bunker that sits 265 yards out, and watched his ball keep bounding, finally stopping just 6 feet from the pin. For Stricker, a phenomenal putter, it left pretty much a tap-in, and the putt went right to the bottom. Eagle-2.

A perfect game plan to bring into Thursday, no?

Stricker laughed. “Yeah, I don’t think I’ll be doing that in the tournament,” he said. “I’m probably going to play it with a 3-iron and a sand wedge. It’s a tough one … They’ll have to watch and see what guys are doing. But I just have a feeling that not a lot of guys are going to do it.”

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