Showdowns at Sawgrass

For the first time in quite a while, I was able to join my Dad, Uncle, and one of my best friends for a Sunday round of golf. As usual, when such a match is put together, an underlying competition was established. A few days prior, I suggested that my Uncle (I call him Goob) and I take on my Dad and my buddy Mike. In my opinion, this was the most fair set up, but my suggestion was denied. It seems Goob was feeling brave, and decided he and Mike wanted to take on my Dad and I. This was an ill-advised decision, as he was handed defeat at the completion of 13 holes. It was a great outing, and with the exception of the heat and a double bogey on a par 5, I had an awesome time. As I was walking to my car, I couldn't help but be reminded of two similar grudge matches I had with my brother.

A few years back, my brother made the move to Gainesville to finish his degree at U.F. Golf is the main activity that we often share together, so I decided that before he left I wanted to treat him to a nice round somewhere in celebration. After a fair bit of research, I decided that we would travel to Ponte Vedra Beach for a round at the T.P.C. Sawgrass Stadium course.

For those who aren't golfers, the Stadium course is one of the most famous in golf. Each year, it plays host to The Players Championship, the biggest tournament of the year outside of the four majors. Its best known for having the most famous finishing holes in golf, especially the iconic island green at the par 3 17th. The tour players may come each year to play for millions of dollars, but what Ross and I had on the line in our round to some is even more valuable...bragging rights...
The night before our match we headed up to Ponte Vedra, which is just outside of Jacksonville. We crashed at a Hilton Garden Inn, which looking back seems a bit odd as it was a requirement that one book a room at the Sawgrass Marriott in order to get a tee time. Regardless, we got up early and made our way to the course. After warming up with a bucket of balls, 90% of which were likely hit with a 9 iron in preparation for #17, we took to the first tee.

Having watched The Players Championship on TV for years, we both had the course memorized. The first is a short, very basic par 4, followed by a lengthy par 5 at #2. I was confident at the start of the round, as I perceived the starting holes to be quite easy, which would get me started on the right foot. I stood on the 3rd tee four over par, and thought the idea of this trip was a very expensive mistake.

I managed to right the ship, however, and having made a few pars along the way, our match stood fairly even as we made the turn. It remained so when we approached #16, which is the beginning of the famed finish at Stadium. Its a dogleg left, somewhat short par 5, which to me should have been a real birdie possibility. Instead, I sliced my drive somewhere across the Georgia border, and had to struggle to make my double bogey. My brother meanwhile was plodding along a couple strokes ahead.

We reached the infamous 17th hole, and for all the build up surrounding it, I managed to make a routine par. Quite frankly, if you remove the water from the equation, it really is a nothing little hole. If one misses any green from 135 yards, then in my opinion you probably deserve a one stroke penalty anyway, so why not make them all islands. But I digress...

Alas we reached the 18th dead even. It is one of the hardest holes in all of golf, and yet for some reason I felt like I needed to make birdie to win. I placed my drive on the right side of the fairway, but played too aggressive on my second shot, and tugged it ever so slightly left. The problem here....there is water all down the left hand side. I watched as my brother made it look easy with a par, and I stumbled with yet another double bogey. I had lost the match by 2 strokes....85-87.

What made the loss so difficult was that it had happened on such a big stage. This wasn't Sunday morning at Muni, or even a weekend trip to the courses at Disney. No, this was Sawgrass. One of the few courses that Tiger Woods hasn't managed to dominate. And I, the one with all the natural talent in the game, lost to my "self taught" little brother. This just would not do...

The next year I suggested to Ross that we make the trip again. Since I had taken the beating the year prior, I told him he had to pay his own way for golf. I'm sure still feeling a swell of confidence from the year before, he agreed. The game was on...

The trip followed the same pattern as the year prior, except this time we stayed at the Sawgrass Marriott, which was a nice upgrade from the Hilton Garden Inn. We both came into the round rather cocky. Sawgrass was old hat to us, and in our opinion there wasn't really anything special to it. We were gonna show the course who was boss. Sawgrass had a funny way of reminding us just who the boss really was...

Let's just say things didn't go well...for either of us. My experience was a little better than his, but not by much. The only memorable moment of the round came on the dreaded 17th. I led off with a 9 iron, which while the ball was in flight, I had a passing thought that it may actually go in. Alas, the pin was on the top shelf, and for those familiar with the course, my ball landed in the bank, and trickled back to the front. A good enough shot that I remember it still, but it didn't have anything on what I'd see next...

My brother has always hit his irons further than me, but I knew right off that the pitching wedge which was in his hand wasn't near enough club. Sure enough, shot number one kerplunked in the water. As well as shots number 2, 3, and 4, all having landed within a few feet of one another. Apparently Ross hadn't heard Einstein's famous quote about repetition and insanity. Finally, he moved to the drop zone to the left of the green, where he proceeded to plunk #5 in the pond also. In disgust, he threw a ball like a center fielder, and managed to reach the green. It was ugly, no doubt about it...

In the end, it is Ross that is still the champion at Sawgrass. He won the only real match we've ever had, as I have a hard time even calling our second one golf. I've got bragging rights on #17, but he's got me on score, and really that's the only thing which matters. One day I would love to return for another match at Sawgrass, but my gut tells me that day will be far in the future. It seems the folks at Sawgrass feel a recession is a perfect time to raise rates 300%, and effectively shut out guys like Ross and I. That's OK, after the first two experiences, I'm not sure what was so appealing about spending all that money to inflict such brutal torture on ourselves...

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~

Deej