Who better to give us the lowdown on everything you wanted to know about TPC Sawgrass than head professional Brian Riddle?
Brian Riddle has been the head professional at Sawgrass since 2013. Since then he has seen thousands of golfers come through his doors before leaving to complete a bucket-list experience and, hopefully, give themselves a putt for birdie at 17. NCG sat down with Brian to get the lowdown on the Stadium Course…
How quickly does the topic of 17 come up?
As soon as our visitors are in the pro shop they are picking your brains. Then they are warming up on the range and they’ll be asking where the pin is, what the yardage is and where the wind will be? They are imagining that shot hours before playing it.
You are walking up the 16th fairway and about 150 yards out from the green that’s when you can start seeing the 17th and you can see what the group ahead are doing.
What is the ideal wind for playing it?
In March the predominant wind is straight in their faces but the grandstands and chalets create a bowl where the wind can get underneath the chalets and swirl. On the tee it can be in your face and you look at the flags and it is downwind. It messes with your mind.
What would your advice be as a caddie there?
You want to play to the middle of the green and this seems like such a cliche but you really don’t want to start adding penalty shots. It takes a whole different level of nerve so get your first shot into the middle of the green and take your two-putt par. Don’t get cute and go after the pin.
The back left-hole location starts to flatten out so if you carry the ball pin high it won’t stick and will release right off the back. I have seen people putt it up the path to that pin. It is one of the larger greens on the course but it doesn’t appear that way. We generally get about 8-10 aces a year.
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How many people do end up wet?
We have a diver who comes out nine times a year and in our peak season every month. As a rough estimate there are around 30,000 rounds played and we had 65,000 balls in the past year. The tradition goes that some players will take a sleeve of balls and dunk them into the water in an OK to the golfing gods, I’ve paid my debt, now please let me hit the green.
Is the course still a bit underrated?
Well it’s 7,200 yards so it’s plenty long but Pete Dye wanted to make sure it tested every aspect of your game with a good mix of short, medium and long 3s, 4s and 5s, so there’s a good blend. You can’t take a break mentally on any hole and that’s what he wanted.
This is the first year that the Players has happened in full since Pete Dye died. Will you be marking his passing?
We will have a plaque unveiled by the 1st tee to recognise Pete Dye for his masterpiece. Of course his wife Alice played a huge part in the design of 17 which was marsh and swampland so not a good area for a hole. When they were digging they found this pocket of sandy soil where 17 was going to go and they were moving that to other parts of the course and they dug out too much. It was originally designed to just have water along the right.
Alice was on site and she suggested that they dig out the rest of it and make it an island hole. Pete in any interview or books gave his wife the credit for this creation.
How tough is 18?
That is such an intimidating tee shot, you just see all this water. You can easily run through into the woods on the right and par then becomes really difficult. As you approach the green it all slopes left and it can easily run left into the water.
What is an underrated hole?
I love what we did in 2016 with the 12th renovation. Before you couldn’t see the green from the tee box so it was a long iron to the right and you played around this mound. They took that away and it is now drivable and has created a lot of excitement. They have since softened the slope so the ball doesn’t run off quite so severely. It is more enticing now.
Which players come to play or practise at Sawgrass?
Billy Horschel, Jonas Blixt, Fred Funk, Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk live here. KJ Choi has just spent a week with us, past champ, JT Poston has just stopped in, Zach Johnson was here for a couple of days, and Brandt Snedeker. If they are in the area they will get a round in.
If you were having a flutter who would you go for?
I’m a big fan of Dustin Johnson. He has the advantage on the longer holes but the soft touch and wedge game. He should always have a decent chance here.
How would you like to be at next year’s Players Championship?
The NCG Top 100s Tour is back and bigger than ever – and the grand prize is a VIP trip to TPC Sawgrass for the 2022 Players Championship.