McCARTHY: A gloriously stupid day at the Players Championship


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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida – At the end of Adam Sandler’s classic Happy Gilmorea TV tower falls on the 18th green and Happy is forced to putt through the crumpled structure to win the Tour Championship.

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This scene could have fit in well on Saturday at the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass. In fact, with winds blowing over 65 km/h, this could have been a possibility.

Heading into the week, the PGA Tour’s flagship event had it all, except for the weather forecast. After two days of torrential rain, the tournament was almost completely missed. Saturday started with 47 of the 144 players still to complete their first rounds, and with a Monday finish as the best-case scenario.

Players woke up to a tornado warning on their phones, ushering in another element to the week, and news that the game would start at noon. While Mother Nature was in a bad mood, at least the golf gods had a sense of humor as they brought six of the best players in the world to the island’s famous par-3 17th green to start the day.

After chasing my hat twice on the way to the cart, I arrived at the scene just as the horn sounded to start the tournament again. A small blessing for golfers was that very few people were there to witness what was about to unfold. Spectators were not allowed on the course until noon, when play began.

Scottie Scheffler was first and tried a 7-iron at back pin placement from 146 yards. The wind died down when he made contact and his shot sailed over the green and into the water. Next up was Xander Schauffele, who pulled away once before hitting his 8 iron to the right and into the water. Brooks Koepka’s shot looked good for a second before it was short and wet. Three players, three balls in the water.

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The next group of stars hit the tee around the same time as cheering fans descended on the famous golf hole. A number of them descended further than they had hoped, slipping and falling in the mud, adding to the carnage that was beginning to unfold on the 17th.

Collin Morikawa was off the tee. Like Schauffele, Morikawa pulled away once, then bounced his ball off the wooden foundation of the island green and into the water. Four players, four balls in the water.

Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas are the first two players to find a pitch, only Thomas made the par.

“They should stop playing. The 17th hole is unplayable,” Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee tweeted shortly after.

I understand the sentiment and applaud his ability to think about the sanctity of competition after the previous 48 hours of boredom. But now was not the time for a closed-door tournament committee meeting, it was time to make happy putts. After two days of biblical rain, after two years of trying – sometimes hopelessly – to do the right thing, it was time to embrace the chaos.

When Joel Dahmen’s caddy, Geno Bonnalie, heard the 15-minute drive to the golf course from the hotel was taking over two hours in traffic, he hopped on a bike and pedaled to the TPC Sawgrass. He arrived to find the start time for Dahmen’s second round had been pushed back to Sunday morning.

Marc Leishman was the first player on Saturday to hit a legitimately great shot on the island green. His low-flying iron stopped seven feet from the hole, the crowd roared and the Aussie raised his fist like Tiger Woods before missing the putt and firing a first-round 78.

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In the end on Saturday, there were 33 balls in the water on the 17th hole. Koepka hit two and couldn’t help but laugh after the second, en route to a second-round 81.

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Alongside Leishman was American Ryder Cup captain and two-time major champion Zach Johnson. On the 18th hole, Johnson hit a practice swing that came to rest just yards from me at the feet of a young boy. Luckily for Johnson, there’s no penalty for hitting the ball on your practice swing while you’re off the tee (he’d know, he kind of did it three times), unfortunately, he hit his mulligan straight to the right stand and finished a well deserved double bogey anyway. I had hoped to tell Johnson about his oddly familiar blooper, but he only had 10 minutes to run to the tee to start his second round.

Was it a good day at TPC Sawgrass? Depends who you ask. But unless you play, the answer is probably yes. It was an insane, bizarre, unfair, thrilling, silly and wonderfully fun day of golf. And that’s exactly what this tournament needed.

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