The good, the bad and the amazing from the Players Championship

All sports have their humbling moments, but I’m not sure any game is as fickle as the game of golf. Amateurs and professionals alike have good days and bad. Heck, you can have both good and bad in any given round of golf and yes, even from shot to shot.

Never was this contrast more evident than in last week’s Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Long considered the fifth major, the Players has been a mandatory watch for all golf fans. This year’s edition did not disappoint as there was a little bit of everything for us to see.

Let’s start with the good. Masters champion Sergio Garcia came to the famed island green 17th in round one struggling along at 3 over par. This is the hole that swallows up golf balls at an alarming rate considering that the best golfers in the world are taking aim at the putting surface.

Garcia promptly aced the hole and his round instantly energized. Good, right? Yes, but not amazing. That label can be given to Kyle Stanley and again it’s the 17th hole where we can apply the word amazing. All Stanley did was to birdie the hole in every round. Four straight 2s! That had never been done before.

Rafael Cabrera Bello also had a first. He recorded an albatross on the par 5 16th hole. That, for the non-golfers out there, means he holed his second shot. Never before had anyone done that at the Players. Good? Yes. Amazing? Well, you decide. His shot hit a bulkhead and ricocheted off into the hole. Maybe lucky is the term we are looking for here.

How about good and bad on CONSECUTIVE shots? That award, if there was one, would go to Ian Poulter. Lurking at the top of the leaderboard for the entire tournament, Poulter still had a shot to win as he readied for his second shot on the 18th. He then promptly shanked the ball so far right that many of us felt like a touring pro. Hey, who among us has never hit a shank?

After taking a drop, he was “dead” in golf parlance. There was no way he could get the ball to the green as he had to hit a low punch to avoid a tree and slice the ball to avoid the water. Not only did he manage to get the ball on the green, it was within a couple of feet of the pin! The bogey did not help win the tournament, but even Poulter admitted that he hit one of his worst shots ever followed by one of his best ever. Such are the vagaries of golf.

Some absolutely awful scores were posted in this tournament by some very, very good golfers. Former world No.1 Jason Day shot 80 in the final round. So too did Olympic champion Justin Rose. Tour rookie Jon Rahm, the Spaniard that has taken the tour by storm shot 82 in the third round.

The top flop however, belonged to J.B. Holmes. Entering the final round as the co-leader, Holmes shot a totally ridiculous 84 Sunday to finish in a tie for 41st. Think for a minute about how much money Holmes round cost him. Si Woo Kim won the tournament – at 21, the South Korean became the youngest Players champion – and collected the winner’s share of the purse, a tidy little amount of $1,890,000.

The size of J.B. Holmes check after his final round adversity, you ask? How about in the neighborhood of $40,000! Ouch…

All in all it was great TV watching, though some of the golfers may disagree. Though none of us root for pros to have bad days, it does make us feel better about ourselves and our own game when they struggle. The fact is I can identify very closely with J.B. Holmes. Let me explain.

Earlier this season I shot 74 at Loudon Meadows and felt very good about my game. This past week my group returned to the same course and to say I didn’t play as well would be an understatement.

I managed to play the front nine in 13 strokes over par. My 49 had my teammates wondering why they got stuck with me and I had to answer a question as to whether my poor play was going to make the paper. I assured them it would not — writer’s prerogative — and yet here I am telling you about it.

Things didn’t get any better at the turn as I promptly bogeyed 10, 11 and 12. Then for no apparent reason I birdied the 13th, a hole that has challenged me over the years.

It was back to normal (at least for this day) on No. 14 as I had a double bogey on the short par 5. That was followed by another unexpected birdie on 15. I shot 40 on the back for a really atrocious 89.

Of course my birdies held up for skins and I took a lot of heat for winning money while working on raising my handicap!

Now you know why I can empathize with J.B. Holmes. The difference between his best round and his worst was 16 strokes. My difference was 15. Were the circumstances different? Well of course.

Can you imagine my score if I were to play Sawgrass? Hey, you can stop counting now!

Al Stephenson is The A-T golf columnist.

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