Major or not, what we just watched at the Players Championship will likely be some of the most fun golf of the entire year. After two days of constant rain, a cold front worked its way toward the Stadium Course and brought winds usually reserved for the Open Championship. Unlike a links course, TPC Sawgrass is littered with water hazards, eager to gobble up shots blasted by the wind. It was a day that made many of the world’s best golfers look silly.
7 on the par-3 17th 😬 pic.twitter.com/VbLhsQq2qD
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 12, 2022
Supreme control of your golf ball was needed to play well on Saturday. Unlike most weeks on the PGA Tour, it wasn’t about being able to hit a stock shot on repeat; it was about hitting all the shots. “I mean, I hit 9-iron from 95 yards, then a couple holes later I hit 9-iron from 208 yards,” Keegan Bradley said after the round. “To me there’s no yardage. It’s just the trajectory of your ball, whatever club you can get to fit that window, that’s the shot.”
With the Stadium Course’s routing moving the course around in every direction, players faced every type of wind. The only way they could control their ball in the strong crosswinds was to work it with draws or fades. Anything that spun with the wind would fly into oblivion.
Over the past decade, the fade has become the predominant shot on Tour. The advent of the solid-core golf ball and the low-spin driver has permitted the frequent knuckle cut as well. In the 90s, players had to choose between the distance of a draw or the control of a cut. These days, the cut goes as far as the draw but with more command. This has created an era of players who almost exclusively play a fade. But today at the Players, that one-dimensional style was taken off the table. Shot-shaping extraordinaires such as Justin Thomas and Bubba Watson emerged. Kevin Kisner, a shorter hitter, was given a stage to showcase his immense skills and ability to hit a penetrating draw.
JT has every shot. pic.twitter.com/cLj4nFNob0
— Kyle Porter (@KylePorterCBS) March 12, 2022
Thomas’ knockdown 6-iron (that’s right, 6-iron) on the 136-yard 17th, followed by a driver and knockdown 3-wood into 18, was as beautiful and varied a sequence of golf as you will ever see. It’s almost painful to know that he’ll rarely need to draw on this skill set elsewhere on tour because bludgeoning a course with a single shot shape is typically the way to go in the current pro game.
The players who spent most of Saturday afternoon and evening on the Stadium Course are unlikely to win this week because they got the wrong end of a brutal weather draw. But their shots and play are what I’ll remember most from this tournament. The adverse conditions created a rare stage for the most talented players to demonstrate the true range of their gifts.