The Fifth Major

Players 2022: 7 Players Championship clichés and whether or not they are true


Sam Greenwood

PONTE VEDRA BEACH — No, it's not a major, but the coverage devoted to the Players Championship certainly makes it feel like one. And with that coverage, be it on television or in print, comes a LOT of clichés. Mix in the fact that like the Masters, the Players is played at the same course every year—TPC Sawgrass, a venue ripe for the same old lukewarm takes year after year—and you've got yourself a perfect storm of platitudes.

To best deal with these ear-ringing adages, we figured we'd list them all out and break down just how true or false each one is. That way, when you do inevitably hear one, two, or all of them, likely multiple times throughout this week, you can call them out however you see fit—on Twitter, to your wife in the other room, to that one wall in the shower you practice debating with for the podcast you're never going to actually start. Whatever works best for you.

We'll begin with an easy one ...

"The 17th is the scariest shot in golf."

I mean, God no. Unequivocally false. Offensively untrue. For a 25-handicapper who dropped $600 to play Sawgrass and has been thinking about nothing but the 17th tee for the entire round, sure, it's scary stuff. For the best players in the world? Flip wedge on a benign wind day. Maybe an 8- or 9-iron if it's blowing a little. Maybe this Sunday, when temperatures are expected to dip below 55 degrees and the wind will be in the 20-mph range, the degree of difficulty will go up a notch or two. It still won't even rank in the top 10 of "scariest shots in golf" that these players will face this season. Hell, it's not even close to the toughest par 3 on the course (No. 8 and No. 13 are both far more challenging). It might not even be the scariest shot on the 17th hole itself. Countless players, Brooks Koepka included, have said that the shot from the drop zone on 17, after you've hit it in the water, is as frightening and possibly even moreso. Most entertaining shot in golf? It's up there. Scariest? Not quite.

"TPC Sawgrass is a completely different course in March."

Even to the untrained eye, this is undoubtedly true. For years, TPC Sawgrass in May bore a striking resemblance to Pinehurst No. 2 at the 2014 U.S. Open. Brown and down baby. Balls bounded on the baked-out bermuda, four-foot par putts quickly turned into seven-footers for bogey, the rough was down and the course often got to the proverbial "edge" (shoutout Ken Duke). For many years, it was a nice little identity. Xander Schauffele, who made his debut at the Players in its final May iteration and tied for second, absolutely loved it. In the two March versions since, Schauffele hasn't seen the weekend.

"I played really well here when the tournament was in May," Schauffele said. "It played much shorter, more strategic, firmer, faster, just a different looking golf course. Now it's lush, the rough is up, thick, the ball is stopping. It's kind of a different approach mentally, I guess, compared to if I had to play off memory."

Schauffele is spot on. The course is noticeably greener this time of year, almost—gulp—Augusta-like. It's in pristine condition, and the rye overseed has the rough at U.S. Open length (or Arnold Palmer Invitational-length). The greens are extra receptive, too. During Wednesday's practice round, Patrick Cantlay hit a beautiful piercing draw into the 237-yard par-3 eighth that was flying directly toward the pin. His ball damn near plugged in the front of the green, leaving a crater of a ball mark. This ain't Ken Duke's your grandfather's Players anymore.

Dustin Johnson, whose best finish in the Players, a T-5, came in the first March edition, is a big fan of the lush version of the Stadium Course.

"I like the change. I feel like the course is in better condition, obviously, with the overseed," Johnson said. "But plays a little bit longer. Obviously in May it's really warm. The course plays really fast. I feel like this time of year the course definitely suits my game a little bit better."

Verdict: Yes, it's a completely different venue in March.

"TPC Sawgrass doesn't reward any 'one' type of player."


Stan Badz

Not to be SportsCenter-talking-head-hedge-my-bets guy, but this is both true and false. Given the variety of winners here over the years, it does seem true that Pete Dye's crown jewel doesn't reward any "one" type of player. There are plenty of ways to get it done. Justin Thomas won a year ago by, well, being Justin Thomas and making a boatload of birdies on the weekend thanks to a tee-to-green masterclass. Jason Day won in 2016 by scrambling his face off and making a million putts. Tiger Woods won twice here by executing a gameplan that would make Bill Belichick blush. Matt Kuchar bunted it around and gained a ton of strokes on approach and putting. We could go on and on, the point being that, yes, it doesn't reward any one type of player. That said, it does reward guys who execute the shots required in high-pressure situations, guys who are "precise" as Cantlay said earlier in the week. Also known as: professional golf.

"The Players is the strongest field in golf."

There is, no question, that the Players is consistently one of the strongest fields in golf. With the field comprising of the top 125 players from the previous year's FedEx Cup points list, or anyone inside the current top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking (or a number of other stringent criteria), it's impossible not to be. As Data Golf analyzed back in 2017, the Players consistently had a higher quality of field than any of the majors between 2011 and 2017, which is one of the two categories Data Golf uses to determine field strength. The other category is "difficulty of winning the tournament." The Players, of course, always rates highly in both of those areas, mainly because of the quality of players in the supposed bottom portion of the field. Still, though, it's often not rated as the hardest tournament to win, a designation that often belongs to the PGA Championship (particularly in Data Golf's 2011-2017 sample sizs), given how much harder the PGA it is to win for a top-five player in the world. So no, the Players cannot boast "the strongest field in golf," but it's definitey in the "one of the strongest" category.

"The fifth major."

Without a doubt the most played out "debate" in golf every year, so much so that the debate has died a bit of a slow death over the last few years due to fatigue. The funny thing is, it sort of does feel like a major! The March move has helped give it some more shine early in the season, as opposed to being the tournament sandwiched in between the Masters and the U.S. Open. The elite list of recent winners has major-y vibes as well. The purse increase (now up to $20 million with $3.6 million to the winner) certainly packs a punch, too. Although, after the final putt is holed at the Masters, nobody wants to see how much the first-place check is. They just want to see the winner put on the green jacket.

The best way forward for the Players is to just be the Players. It's still a massive, standalone event that the best players in the world show up to and desperately want to win. That's plenty good enough even without the coveted "major" tag.

"The greatest theater in golf."

This was actually said during a preview show this week in reference to 16, 17 and 18 at TPC Sawgrass. After slamming on the brakes and re-thinking it, it's not that far off base. In terms of "theater," the second shot into 16 followed by the tee shot at 17 does make for delicious theater, but no, it is not the greatest theater in golf. We are the biggest hyperbole culprits going here at The Loop and not even we'd go that far.

"Better than most."

This isn't really a cliché, per se, although the broadcasters are certainly not afraid to break it out anytime someone has a putt of over 20 feet on the 17th at any point in the week. It's more just a clip that you will very likely see between five and 10 times this week, which is fine. It's Tiger. It's an incredible putt and reaction. The wild shirt buttoned all the way to the top. It really has it all. But after driving it into the ground last year on its 20th anniversary, it might be time to put it on ice for a while (even Dustin Johnson got a little sick of it last year). There's an endless amount of other big-time shots at the Players that deserve love, too. Or, perhaps, crazy idea incoming—maybe just focus on the golf that's occurring in real time? We love Tiger and all but … We. Get. It.