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Players 2021: The underrated greatness behind TPC Sawgrass’ fourth hole

March 10, 2021

Pete Dye designs are essentially 200-acre obstacle courses full of pitfalls and treachery. They feature distinct, sometimes elaborately contrived apparatus that ruthlessly and often embarrassingly buck contestants, yet they also yield to inspired runs of cool analysis and fearless attack.

The Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, conceived specifically to confuse and thwart the top players on the PGA Tour, was Dye’s ultimate laboratory of defense (he passed away in early 2020). Yet since it first hosted the Players Championship in 1982, winning scores have ranged from 3-under (285 in 1999 by David Duval) all the way to 24-under (264 in 1994 by Greg Norman). While the course has never been as purely punitive as its early reputation suggested (the eventual champion has finished in double-figures under par in 30 of the 38 tournaments), successful navigation still requires exquisite decision-making and precision. No hole showcases this better than the par-4 fourth.

Watch the below video with commentary from Matt Kuchar:

A CLOSER LOOK

The fourth is the shortest par 4 on the first nine, playing to a slender fairway that bends in a right-to-left arc the farther the drive is advanced. Rough-covered spectator moguls guard the left side, and the right is flanked by rough, a long trench bunker and, further out of play, a canal. Another canal crosses in front of the green, which has distinct high and low levels, and is defended by three small pot bunkers to the right and rear.

WHY THE DESIGN MATTERS

The difference between success and failure at the fourth is a fine line that’s usually decided on the tee. Playing from the fairway is critical since it’s imperative to control spin and trajectory when hitting to the distinct green compartments. The imprecision of playing from either the left rough, with uneven lies, or the right rough or bunker, brings the fronting water into play as well as short-sided recoveries from the bunkers and rough. Yet the psychological temptation of advancing the drive into a narrow but better scoring position remains high, often with disastrous results—the hole has claimed 72 double bogeys and 24 “others” over the last five Players.

THE GREEN COMPLEX

Playing from the fairway is critical because the targets on the green are so small. Stopping a ball on the back-right plateau requires spin, and the front pin position, with water looming, is extremely tight unless wedges can utilize the transition slope (the red regions on the above StrackaLine heat map) to draw balls back to the hole. That same steep slope will also feed balls to possible eagle hole locations on the left side of the green, but only if the incoming spin is mastered.

STATS

The fourth is stout for such a short hole, playing virtually to par over the last five tournaments. The players know this is one of the round’s best chances for birdie if they find the fairway, and that puts added stress on the drive. The kick-in hole locations on the left side of the green are usually used twice during the tournament, yet the fourth often plays statistically more difficult when they are utilized more than once (in some years three of the four hole locations appear on the higher back right section) since approach shots that aren’t properly controlled leave difficult-to-stop putts and third shots running away down the slope.

(Green-reading map: Courtesy of StrackaLine)