PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA | Rory McIlroy is doing his best to turn the Players Championship into a day at the beach.
Rather than deal with the swirling atmosphere at the Sawgrass Marriott hotel where many players stay during this week, McIlroy decided a few years ago to turn the Players Championship into a beach trip. The Atlantic Ocean is just a mile or so away from the Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass, but during tournament week it’s practically a world away for McIlroy.
Coincidence or not, when McIlroy changed his housing, he also began enjoying the Pete Dye-designed course more, his feelings warming to a place he originally disliked.
“It’s funny, I started staying on the beach a few years ago and that’s made the event a lot more enjoyable,” McIlroy said Wednesday. “And again, I’ve learnt to like the golf course and I’ve had to do that a lot with Pete Dye courses. The first time you get on some Pete Dye courses they’re very strange and they set you up at wrong angles. Visually, they’re just a little bit not what you want to see but you learn to deal with it and play the way he wants you to play.
“I was a little stubborn the first few years I came here and was trying to sort of break away from that. You just have to play this golf course a certain way and be a little bit better than everyone else with your irons and your wedges and that’s usually a good combination around here.”
If the Stadium course favors a particular kind of player, the list of Players winners doesn’t offer many clues. From Fred Funk and K.J. Choi to Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, there’s no definitive pattern among the champions.
McIlroy said he has to fight the temptation to hit his driver more often than he does. It starts, he said, at the relatively short par-4 first hole where he wants to rip a driver but instead lays back off the tee to avoid missing the fairway.
The Stadium course forces players to play to particular spots, often limiting the bombers’ advantage.
“Once I started to be a little bit more conservative, I started to sort of top-10 it and give myself half a chance,” said McIlroy, whose T35 last year ended a run of four consecutive top-12 finishes in the event. “That’s what this place is all about.”
That and, at least for McIlroy, the beach.
“I go for walks, even just sit on the balcony and look out and sort of get away from it a little bit,” he said. “It’s such a nice beach here, much better than the beach we have back in Jupiter (Fla.); it’s big and flat and you can run on it, you can walk on and it doesn’t pull the legs out from under you like it does a little bit south of here. It’s just a nice, relaxed environment.”