TPC Sawgrass: Miller, Duval, Leonard on PLAYERS’ hardest, easiest holes

A general view of the 17th island green during the final round of the 2016 Players Championship golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass - Stadium Course. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
A general view of the 17th island green during the final round of the 2016 Players Championship golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass - Stadium Course. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports /

Which TPC Sawgrass holes will provide the greatest test of skill to The PLAYERS field?

TPC Sawgrass track tests the mechanics of the golfer from a ball-striking standpoint as well as the golfer’s ability to think. That’s how Johnny Miller, David Duval, and Justin Leonard describe the track that hosts The PLAYERS.

NBC Sports made Miller, Duval and Leonard available for a press conference prior to next week’s PLAYERS. (All direct quotes in this article are taken from the transcript of that press conference.) While they touched on a wide variety of topics, their most interesting had to do with the playing of the course. They’re all qualified to offer some insights into the nuances of TPC Sawgrass.  Duval and Leonard are past champions of The PLAYERS.  Miller’s best performance on the course was in 1983 when he finished T16.  Miller played the course nine years, including the early years starting in 1982, when the course was been described by many veterans as wilder.

Since they all have had the experience of being tested by Pete Dye at TPC Sawgrass, we wondered which holes they thought were the hardest and easiest.

“I didn’t necessarily love 17,” Miller admitted. “It used to play a lot tougher when it was played in March. I remember a lot of north winds.”

He is right about the winds in March.  It was typically more brutal.  The weather was sometimes so cold that spectators stayed away. Strangely, since The PLAYERS has moved to May, the last week of March has been beautiful in most years in Ponte Vedra.  (I know because that’s where I live.)

TPC Sawgrass
May 14, 2016; Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, USA; TPC Sawgrass – Stadium Course. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports /

The 8th and 14th Holes

Duval, who won The PLAYERS in 1999 at 3-under par, picked out the 8th and the 14th holes. The year Duval won, temperatures were in the 70s and 80s with very low humidity.  The greens were brown by the end of the week. Nobody but Duval, it seemed, could even get a ball to stop on them.

“I always felt like the 8th was an incredibly difficult par 3. It just seems like it’s difficult to get on the green much less get it close to the hole,” he explained.

“You’ve got to be very, very careful on 14. You get a little bit too far left in the fairway, you’re blocked out a bit by the trees. Miss it right in the mounding in the rough, you’re in big trouble over there.”

He added that those holes “heightened your senses.”

Miller seconded the 14th as tough after Duval mentioned it.

“That hole (14), a lot of times, historically has been No. 1, No. 2 hardest hole,” Miller said. “That tee shot, man, you hit it over the right in those mounds and then you’ve got this sliver of lay-up, or you’ve got to just pitch it up sideways or whatever. But you can make a big number on 14. 14 is really a tough hole. I mean, super tough.”

TPC Sawgrass
May 9, 2015; Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, USA; Scott Brown putts on the 16th green during the third round of The Players Championship golf tournament at TPC Sawgrass – Stadium Course. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports /

The 9th and 16th Holes

Leonard said he always struggled with the 9th and the 16th, both par fives. His come from behind victory in 1998 came in weather that was so nondescript that the media guide doesn’t even mention the temperature which was in the mid-70s and low 80s all week with a brief shower on Thursday morning. Leonard’s winning score was 10-under par.

“I was never long enough to go for the green, nor would I anyways, but I always found that a very difficult lay-up,” he said about the 9th.  He added that the angles involved in playing the hole made it hard to get his third shot close. “There’s a little pot bunker that sits in front of the green that kind of guards your vision, and then it’s kind of open behind it. I always struggled with that hole.”

He also thinks the second shot at the 16th is challenging.

“The ball is a little bit above your feet, and then you’re trying to work a shot left-to-right with the tree there, and that tree was just in the perfect place to bat my golf ball down,” he noted. “I was never comfortable with that second shot on 16.”

As to what hole is easiest, that’s a relative term since most of the holes at TPC Sawgrass make even the best golfers think and execute.

The 12th Hole

Miller picked the 12th, which has been remodeled to be a potentially drivable par four. He said it’s just a layup and a wedge.

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“It will tempt you trying to go for it,” he mentioned. “If you get a little unlucky and go in the face of the pots there hole-high, that would be a problem. But I don’t think it’s going to play really hardly any tougher at all. In fact, it might even play easier.”

Jason Day had a difficult time landing the ball on the green at the 12th during media day.

Leonard said he always enjoyed the tee shot at the 13th from a strategic standpoint.

“I liked trying to get it in – there’s three pretty well-defined sections of that green and I always enjoyed either trying to work it off the slope into those left pins or the back pin, trying to just get it to creep over that hill.”

He didn’t mention that the front of the green slopes down toward the water and that a shot that’s not deep enough will give a golfer a second chance to hit a tee shot.

The 2nd and 4th Holes

Duval chose the 4th, a short par four.

“Throw a 3-wood out in the fairway and just have a wedge in your hand, and with just a little bit of precision on the shots, where they place the hole, you usually have a pretty good look at birdie,” he noted.

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However, as many have witnessed in past tournaments, if the ball lands in the wrong spot on the green, it will roll all the way down the green, across the railroad ties and into the creek that fronts the putting surface.

After having declared the 12th the easiest and giving Duval and Leonard a chance to pick Miller came back with some other choices.

“No. 2 is the second-easiest hole, historically, the par 5,” he explained. “At 532 yards, that’s just a par 4 for these guys. It drives a little bit – you probably want to hit a 3-wood so you can draw it around the corner. But the green is tough and that’s still – that’s the other super-easy historical hole.”

In terms of TPC Sawgrass for The PLAYERS, Duval perhaps summed it up the best when he said, “I think it’s hard to argue, it’s certainly one of the best events of the year, strongest, deepest fields, and maybe played on one of the most complete golf courses there is in professional golf.”

He said TPC Sawgrass tests the mechanics of the golfer from a ball-striking standpoint as well as the golfer’s ability to think. “That’s the exciting thing about it.”

Next: The RTJ Golf Trail, 11 sites, 26 courses, 488 holes

What’s your favorite hole at TPC Sawgrass? Do you agree with Miller’s, Duval’s, and Leonard’s assessments?