PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA | On a quiet Tuesday afternoon when a snappy breeze was blowing winter’s last gasp across northeastern Florida, the PGA Tour dropped an e-mail about a rules tweak for the Players Championship this week.
The e-mail read: “In the interest of safety for spectators, volunteers and other personnel, The Players Championship Rules Committee has installed an internal out of bounds left of the lake for play of hole 18. Similar instances of internal out of bounds for safety purposes have occurred at The Open Championship (hole 9) in 2017, the 2021 Sony Open in Hawaii (hole 13 and hole 18), and most recently, the 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard (hole 6).”
It might as well be named the Bryson DeChambeau rule.
Golf’s Beast of Bash had suggested – when prodded last Sunday evening after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational – that he would consider an alternative route on the TPC Stadium Course’s water-filled par-4 finishing hole, choosing to play across the water rather than around it, aiming his tee shot at a chunk of land that actually borders the ninth hole, not the 18th.
Before DeChambeau could get there to experiment, the rulesmakers and fun police said no. The reality is DeChambeau probably would not have played the hole that way. But the choice was made for him.
Has it come to that?
Has DeChambeau’s power and aggressiveness forced the PGA Tour’s hand, at least in this one instance?
Well, that piece of land has been there since Pete and Alice Dye built the Stadium Course. And it wasn’t out of bounds until this week. Last fall, a youngster in an AJGA event played the 18th hole up the ninth three times (one birdie, two bogeys).
Other than resort guests who begged their snap hooks to find dry land, there’s no reason to even consider the alternative route unless, of course, you’re DeChambeau and sometimes he seems to throw things out just to provoke a reaction.
He doesn’t just think outside the box, he has designed his own box made up of acute, obtuse, right, straight and reflex angles (DeChambeau can explain the difference if you ask him).
In this case, DeChambeau isn’t changing the game. The game – one corner of the Stadium Course anyway – is being changed because of him. It’s not new.
If you are of a certain age, you will remember how a full-grown spruce appeared overnight near the eighth tee at Inverness Club after Lon Hinkle figured a way to cut about 75 yards off a par-5 by playing down an adjacent fairway.
This week, no trees were added. Just words.
If there’s one place that doesn’t need tweaking for DeChambeau, it’s the Stadium Course. More than the marketing, more than the money, more than the deep and eclectic list of champions, the Stadium Course has made the Players Championship what it is – a spectacular standalone event.
This is how Xander Schauffele describes the Stadium Course:
“It’s everything,” Schauffele said. “It really speaks to your whole bag. You can’t really hide any weakness out here. It’s a big ask. There’s a reason everyone wants to win this week because it really is a true test.
“You just can’t fake it around the property. I’m a big fan of faking it until you make it but this isn’t one of those places.”
Which brings us back to DeChambeau, who now plays the most interesting golf on the planet. For all the attention he gets for his exceptional length, he has been able to finish off big wins with his short game and putting.
After his victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational – spiked by tee shots of 370 and 377 yards over water at the par-5 sixth (away from the internal OB) – there was some chatter about potentially Bryson-proofing courses.
Some would say that’s what the Tour did in declaring the area left of the water on No. 18 out of bounds.
Let DeChambeau be DeChambeau. He plays to his strengths the way others play to theirs. To be fair, there is a large hospitality structure across the water on the 18th hole that would have complicated DeChambeau’s potential path and it’s easy to think that he was just floating an idea, not actually planning to execute it.
This event – this golf course – has a way of sorting through all the extraneous stuff and finding the best player. Sure, Craig Perks is an outlier but has anyone ever played the last three holes better than he did with the smothering pressure? He deserved to win.
The Players Championship stands alone, having created its own category, its own history and its own legacy.
Webb Simpson almost lapped the field in 2018, that’s how good he was. Rory McIlroy was in full flight two years ago. The same for Rickie Fowler and Jason Day in recent years.
Find a question the Stadium Course doesn’t ask. Power is rewarded, particularly on the gettable par-5s. Accuracy is essential because of the ponds and trees that freckle the property. A draw or a fade, both are needed, sometimes on the same hole. And, of course, putting matters because putting always matters.
While the Bryson rule is an interesting wrinkle, it doesn’t change his chances nor what will happen this week. The Players Championship stands alone, having created its own category, its own history and its own legacy.
On Sunday afternoon, someone will accept the trophy near the 18th green. He will get there in the usual way – by playing better than everyone else.
Top: Bryson DeChambeau’s path will have to stay conventional, at least on the 18th hole at TPC Sawgrass. Photo: Keyur Khamar, PGA Tour via Getty Images
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