Making A Splash

The Players Championship LogoThe Players Championship celebrates it’s 34th year at the Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass. Deane Beman’s concept was another Major to be played on a punitive course drawn out of the swampy muck of Ponte Vedra, Florida by the most notoriously devious designer of them all Pete Dye.

As you can read in this retrospective article by Gary Van Sickle from the SI Vault, Deane threw the PGA Tour into the deep end of the cash pool with his reinvention of the Players Championship in 1982. Though it took the impish act of an impetuous young pro, Jerry Pate, to galvanize the interest in this event and change the public perception of the PGA Tour forever.

Full Extension….Pate joins the commish and the evil architect in the pool

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Bruce Litzeke says in the article, “It was the end of the Tour slipping quietly into town, playing its event, and slipping quietly out. After Jerry’s dive the Tour make a bigger noise. When more TPC courses started showing up, golf got bigger and wilder and louder…..It all started there that week.”

Other than Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods, Deane Beman is probably most responsible for the generous livelihood enjoyed by players and their wives today. As the new commissioner Deane had a horde of new fangled ideas on how to increase the visibility and the popularity of a stodgy PGA Tour. He dragged them kicking and screaming into a new era of bigger TV contracts, inflated purses, and broader player exemptions-all of which greatly enriched the bank accounts of guys in Sansabelt slacks and white shoes.

Deane’s concept included this 5th Major that would attract the best field of the year playing “Stadium” course that put the players feet to the fire, especially coming down three infamous finishing holes with everything on the line. This would be a career changer for many guys-big payday, prestige of winning a quasi-major, and one of the most generous tournament qualifying exemptions ever conceived. Win The Players and a journeyman could almost settle his playing schedule for the rest of your PGA Tour life.

Snoopy’s perspective of the final stage for this drama

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Over it’s history unexpected winners like Craig Perks, Fred Funk, and Stephen Ames have survived the pressure, as well as “best players never to win a major” like Sergio, Stenson, and Kooch. But it is the list of true major champions like Tiger, Phil, Adam, Greg, and Freddie that have won and moved the popularity needle for this event over the last three decades.

The Players has grown in it’s stature because of the difficulty of the test, four excruciating days over the most testing stadium course of them. The final chapter is always riveting as the players face a true risk-reward decision on the par five sixteenth followed by a raucous crowd and a devilish pitch into the island green at 17. Finally they must negotiate the hardest finishing tee shot on tour to find the fairway on the Dye-A-Bolical 18th if they want to plant a smacker on this piece of crystal

Rickie staring at a career change after last year’s Player’s performance

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Last year it was Rickie Fowler doing a cannonball on the field. He was five shots back with about an hour to go in this final round but was five under over the last four holes to set up a dramatic four hole playoff with Sergio and Kevin Kisner. His remarkable play continued through a three-hole aggregate playoff and he finally ended it all in sudden death with a lawn dart into the island 17th for his third two of the day on that hole-one last bit of birdie drama.

It should be interesting to watch who makes waves at Ponte Vedra this year.

Gary Van Sickle
SI Vault
March, 2004

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