According to many of the world’s best, there are many ways to play TPC Sawgrass and be successful.
Dustin Johnson, most known for his long straight drives, is putting an emphasis on hitting fairways.
“You’ve got to hit it in the fairway," world No. 1 Dustin Johnson said about TPC Sawgrass. “It doesn’t matter what you hit off the tee.”
Johnson has spent much of the last two seasons learning to improve his short game, as he explained at last year’s Tour Championship.
“Every morning before I play, I work on it. Every day during practice rounds, I work on it. So I mean, I try to do it as much as possible," he explained about his road to improved short game shots. “I've got three shots that I work with on each wedge, and I hit those every day before I tee it up.”
In a subsequent interview, he said had three different shots with each wedge.
“I just call it I've got a half shot, a three-quarters shot, and a full shot. That's what I practice,” he said.
Having those shots gives Johnson the confidence that he can have a birdie opportunity from the fairway and that he doesn’t have to hit driver off so many tees. In fact, he was overheard to tell his caddie and brother Austin that his strategy at the new drivable, par 4, 12th hole will likely be a 4-iron and a 60 degree wedge.
Recently crowned Masters champ Sergio Garcia, a former PLAYERS champ, said he was playing a practice round with Rafa Cabrera-Bello and when they came to the 12th, the unexpected happened.
“He hit a beautiful little drive that flew on line with the pin and went in the water, and it was a perfect tee shot,” Garcia said.
That didn’t faze Garcia.
“If I feel good, I’m probably going to go for it.”
The coolest thing Garcia has done in the green jacket was to kick off a soccer game in Barcelona.
“To have 90,000 people calling your name, that was extremely special, and I was nervous,” he admitted, adding that his nerves were perhaps unfounded because he only had to kick the ball 15 yards.
Jon Rahm, perhaps the next great Spaniard in professional golf, played a practice round with Garcia who told him hitting fairways was important.
Rahm said he learned how to play Pete Dye courses at the Karsten Course at Arizona State University where he played college golf.
“I’m not going to lie. There’s a lot of holes where I would just love to tee it up and rip a driver, but I can’t,” he said. “It’s going to be hard to be smart. Just try to keep in in the fairway, the short grass. Everybody has been telling me that.”
The Karsten Course, he said, is not nearly as difficult as TPC Sawgrass, but he learned strategy by playing it.
“What I learned is that even if the hole is short, even being close to the green doesn’t mean you have a better chance of birdie.”
Past champ Henrik Stenson won The Players with his 3-wood, not his driver. He said that on the new 12th hole, he is going to hit something close to a 4-iron and then a sand iron.
“I’m not sure the balance is 100 percent in terms of the risk and reward,” he said about the hole. “That’s why I’m kind of holding back a little bit.”
He noted that shots hit on line to the green were finding their way into the water.
“Certainly if you’re two or three behind on the weekend and that’s where you need to make a push, it’s certainly an opportunity,” he added.
So go for broke and hit the drive as far as possible, or select a shorter club and place the ball where you want it. The strategy seems to vary with the golfer. Today we will start to see who is right.