PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA – It has started. The sights and sounds of the strongest field in golf coming to terms with the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass during the Players Championship. The Masters is April’s ritual. The Players is May’s murder.
Is it a form of torture for the players? Yes. Designed by Pete Dye, the course has been called diabolical. Is it a stern examination of their skills? Yes. Are they tested to the limit? Yes. Do they long for the sanctuary of the locker room and for every round to be over? Do they ever. Is it a pleasure? Hardly. One player once described waking up and knowing that he had to face the 17th in a few hours as being like waking up and knowing he had root canal work in mid-afternoon.
How to explain the cumulative reaction as the golfers reel off the Stadium Course, some with scores in the 60s, some in the 70s? It is a sigh, a shrug, a scream, a wince, a frown, a gasp of relief that the round is over and a smile, usually of relief, sometimes of pleasure. All these rolled into one.
Is the course fair? Yes.
Is the course difficult? Yes.
Is it worthy of being regarded as one of the best events on golf’s calendar that is not a major championship? Yes.
Is it fun for the spectators? Absolutely.
This golf watcher likes little more than seeing the best players in the game tested to their very limit. Why shouldn’t they be? The British golf administrator Gerald Micklem used to describe the fiercest tests as being appropriate. “They’re S (scholarship) level exams, not A (advanced) level,” he said. “They are meant to be difficult.”
So enjoy the sight of the players at the Players as they sit a severe annual examination. And listen out for their reactions – sighs, shrugs, screams, winces, frowns, gasps and smiles, sometimes of relief, occasionally of pleasure.