The air was thick as we stepped onto the patio at the palatial clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass. Certainly nothing out of the ordinary for a late-summer morning in Florida, where the steam rising off the dewy grass can render the most disheveled of sport coats wrinkle-free. But today, the air wasn't just heavy due to the 117% humidity - it carried a little extra weight thanks to one of the most famous golf courses on the planet and a sibling rivalry that could give old Peyton and Eli a run for their money.
To understand the stakes of this duel, we must go back to one of the very first posts every shared on this little blog. Honestly, I'd just assume you not read the post because it's a rather embarrassing piece of prose. So to save you the trouble let's just say it's the rambling story of the first two trips that my brother and I made to Sawgrass. The first ended in a final hole defeat for yours truly thanks to a pulled 4-iron on my approach to the 18th green. While the second saw RJ go down in a blaze of glory, losing roughly $22 worth of Titleists on the notorious island green 17th.
Fast forward 8 years and it was time to settle the score. But not before a breakfast of kings overlooking the 18th hole of the famed Stadium Course.
Over the years, I've come to realize that the golf matches between my brother and I tend to follow a similar pattern. RJ usually starts off with a couple double-bogeys and then - after calling himself some very NSFW names - is forced to grind out the remainder of the round to salvage a respectable score. Meanwhile, I tend to plod along, building a seemingly insurmountable lead, before blowing up all of the hard work with an ill timed quadruple-bogey. This typically lets him right back into the match and requires playing the rest of the round partially one handed after punching the golf cart steering wheel.
This round was no different.
After a front-9 that included three water balls, two ricochets off the cart path, and one encounter with a very hungry raccoon, we made the turn tied at 8-over par.
It could have been a whole lot worse.
Combine the sweltering heat, a notoriously difficult golf course, and rough that - according to our caddie - was deeper than it was during The Players Championship, we had ourselves a recipe for some truly embarrassing scores.
I'd love to say that from here on in we both turned on the afterburners, but alas the next six holes were filled with an abundance of uninspiring golf. Not that it mattered much, because when it comes to TPC Sawgrass literally everyone that tees it up is there for the final three holes. As luck would have it, we began perhaps the most famous finishing stretch of holes in the game with our match still tied.
The 16th hole at TPC Sawgrass is my nemesis. Before this round, I had been lucky to play it four times - or unlucky, as the scores will show - and had managed to put up one bogey and three doubles. So when the day began I had two goals...
1) Par the 16th.
2) Beat RJ.
With a sigh of relief, I took my first look at the dreaded island green across the way having accomplished goal #1. Sadly, the satisfaction lasted about 12 seconds - RJ rolled in a birdie putt to go one up in the match.
Like Sergio Garcia, Sean O'Hair and Bob Tway, RJ and I both had dark memories to overcome as we moved ahead to the famed 17th at TPC Sawgrass. On our last duel 8 years ago, he put two in the water from the tee, one from the drop zone, and still another when he attempted to throw his ball onto the green in frustration. Not to be outdone, the 17th recently derailed what was on track to be my career best round of golf, thanks to a pair of ProVs in the drink leading to an unimaginable quintuple-bogey.
It's here that I'd like to pause to express my utter disdain for the 17th at Sawgrass. I'm a golf snob, plain and simple, and quite frankly I think this hole is an abomination. It is basically the Howard Stern of golf - famous merely for its shock value and designed to appeal to the hacker that's made 7 trips to the beer tent during The Players Championship. And don't even get me started on the fact that making par requires hitting the green in regulation, unless you're Fred Couples or get "lucky" and find the ridiculous bunker tucked in the front.
But I digress...
Though he later admitted to being more nervous than he let on, RJ found the center of the island green with no problem. Now it was my turn to answer, that is if I could get my hands to stop shaking as I stood over the ball. This was my 5th time teeing it up on the 17th at Sawgrass, and apparently it doesn't get any easier with experience. Especially if you're in a grudge match with your younger brother...
I made one of the worst swings of the day, and watched in agony as the bladed 9-iron took one hop off the left side of the green and into the water. A "ho-hum" par for RJ vs an up-and-down bogey for yours truly, left me two down heading to the 18th.
Just your run of the mill hardest finishing hole on Tour.
In an effort to protect his lead, RJ lobbed a hybrid club up the right side, while I vented some frustration over the 17th by making a swing that might have made the Incredible Hulk proud. The Golf Gods threw me a bone and placed this one in Position A. They weren't so kind to RJ's conservative play, however - his attempt at laying up for his 2nd shot found the water left.
A solid knock-down 8-iron from me and a great pitch from RJ left us with a pair of 15 foot putts - mine for birdie, his for bogey. And just as you might expect, those same Golf Gods decided to have a little more fun... Both putts went in, ending our match in a tie.
You have to be kidding me...
A rematch 8 years in the making and we still haven't settled the score at Sawgrass. I'm sure there's some brotherly silver-lining that we're supposed to see here. That it's not about winning, but special memories made together. But screw that.... I wanted to win.
The fact is, I was lucky to get a tie. I deserved to lose, but that's the game of golf. Still, at risk of sounding uber-sappy, on this day at one of the top courses in the world, we both definitely won.
Enjoy Your Stay