It’s a scene more like a crowded outdoor patio than your typical golf tournament.
“It was definitely a lot quieter earlier,” a spectator says to a friend.
Welcome to a Saturday afternoon overlooking TPC Sawgrass’ iconic Island Green, one of the golf universe’s wonders of the world.
The view is spectacular. The green of the par-5 16th pops across the water less than a football field away, the bowl of the arena circling both that green and the entire tee-to-green experience of the 17th hole.
It’s a stage for the game of golf’s superstars, ferocious despite its diminutive size. The 146-yard par 3 took the generation’s biggest superstar, Tiger Woods, out of tournament-winning contention when he drowned two balls at the hole a day before.
Crowds lounge on the money green slope overlooking the green, while others watch from the two stories of suites and seats above.
Mid-afternoon, the slope is lively. A woman dressed as a leprechaun in a miniskirt carries a round of island-style drinks. A pack of fraternity brothers poses for photos with the green in the background, their arms outstretched with koozie-wrapped beverages. Another guy has a Sharpie-inspired face tattoo — it’s one of those afternoons.
The focus of the crowd shifts from green aluminum cans to the more-famous green intermittently, the reaction time dwindling as the day burns. Players come and go, most enjoying nothing more than an occasional hoot and clap as the banter rises.
At 4 p.m, Tony Finau steps on the 17th tee, the American working on a pleasing 5-under third round and in a tie for eighth place in the tournament.
“Nooooo,” the crowd snaps as the focus momentarily sharpens. It’s the largest reaction of the day to that point. Finau collects his double-bogey, just like the many waterfinders before him.
Moments later, a lone duck appears on the wooden edge of the green, sitting like a statue on a front porch. It jumps in the water for a bath, then swims in circles, its serenity juxtaposed by the thousands of live onlookers visiting its home for the weekend.
At the same time across the water, a glassy-eyed couple tries to take a selfie with the duck and green in the background. They are less successful in their quest than the duck is in its.
Twenty minutes after Finau leaves the arena, Sergio Garcia mimics his result. Splash. The crowd jeers.
“He’s going to have to take the walk of shame,” a woman says, lounged with her elbows in the grass belts. The 2017 Masters champion scoffs at his fortune and prepares his 80-yard shot from the drop zone, a shot that lands on the green and spins aggressively toward the front ledge. It stops just inches from the drink.
The same woman shrieks in decibel-defying fright, the horror of the Island Green soothed by the flavor of her island concoction.
A man walks nearby, his homemade wide-rim hat a replica of the Island Green itself.
Nothing too out of the ordinary here. It’s just a typical Saturday afternoon at the 17th hole at THE PLAYERS.