TPC Sawgrass’ drivable 12th is losing some of its dramatic luster

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TPC Sawgrass’ drivable 12th is losing some of its dramatic luster

PGA Tour

TPC Sawgrass’ drivable 12th is losing some of its dramatic luster

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida — When is a drivable par-4 just a difficult par-3?

As far as tough one-shotters go, TPC Sawgrass’ revamped 12th hole skewed sideways in favor of players. Calling it a par-4 is a stretch.

Listed as 304 yards, the 12th played easier over the first two rounds than any hole at TPC Sawgrass with a 3.511 scoring average.

For some perspective, PGA National’s 17th hole was the PGA Tour’s toughest par-3 last year with a 3.533 scoring average. That par-3 is just 190 yards.

When the 12th was unveiled at the 2017 Players, most were quick to downplay the merits of the new hole, declaring that the lay-up was too easy, therefore making the risk of driving the green too great. Yet by the weekend that year, players were standing around longer on the tee pondering options. Several drove the green and on paper, the new 12th appeared to present a strong blend of risk and reward.

Dustin Johnson plays his tee shot from the 12th during the first round of The Players Championship. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

But there are too many cooks in The Players kitchen, so between executives and players offering in-house designer Steve Wenzloff their suggestions, a more robust strip of rough was allowed to grow along the lake’s edge in 2018, cutting down on balls rolling into the hazard and encouraging aggressiveness.

Throw in this year’s course overseed of ryegrass that softened features a bit more, and the hole is as close to a pushover as you’ll get. Consider the ShotLink numbers:

  • The average driving distance of the field was 291 yards. The hole is 304 yards.
  • In Round 1, 90% of the field attempted to drive the green, 75% in Round 2.
  • A whopping 24% of the drives going for the green stayed on the putting surface in Round 1, with 27% remaining on the green in Round 2.
  • There were just nine water balls on Thursday, and only six on Friday.
  • The field played the 12th hole in -76 for Round 1, -69 in Round 2.
  • Early vs. late scoring averages were around -.5 for all sessions except -.408 Friday afternoon.
  • There were no double bogeys or “others” the first two days and only 16 bogeys.
  • The hole yielded seven eagles over the first 36 of the 2019 Players.

Restoring that mysterious balance between risk and reward appears to be fairly straightforward given the 12th hole’s range of swings since the PGA Tour decided to inject a more strategic hole into the back nine.

As the numbers show, returning the lake to more prominence would help. Trimming the rough down between the tight-mow slope and water seems a necessity in March when conditions are lusher.

There is also the day-to-day tournament setup.

Watching players drive a par-4 with a hybrid or driving iron doesn’t exactly get the juices flowing, especially when there are tees available to put driver in their hands.  Fans love watching a player mull their options before pulling the big stick and making a play for a target far away. However, at 304 yards today’s bombers are not exactly straining to get to the 12th green. The hole has tees stretching it 360 yards if necessary. Why not vary the yardages more and gasp — make the hole almost impossible to drive one day each year to accentuate the excitement when the hole is more reachable?

Jon Rahm looks over a putt on the 12th green during the first round of The Players Championship. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

As it’s playing now — a long par-3 where players in every group are playing to the green — the drama is gone. It’s the movie with so many action scenes that they all run together and lose their dramatic effect.

Not all short par-4’s present the options created here or contain the flexibility to adjust to modern driving distances. But TPC Sawgrass’ 12th has room to inject more challenge into the proceedings and has shown it can induce those magical moments when players are allowed to show off their incredible ability under Players pressure. But those moments are only magical when we all feel like they’ve earned the reward for their risk taking.

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