The long walk to 17 at TPC Sawgrass


I’ve been on Webb Simpson’s bag for eight years now. Last May was a career highlight when we won the Players Championship. In doing so, we had to survive the famous island-green 17th. After birdieing 16 on Sunday, our lead was six, but it wasn’t time to exhale yet. We saw two days earlier what can happen on 17: In a tricky wind, Webb backed off his tee shot twice before clanking one off the bulkhead and into the water. We were able to sneak off with a double bogey—on a day when we were an incredible 11 under through 16 holes!

Making the walk to 17 tee on Sunday, my goal was to make sure Webb got a mental break. I had a plan. I call it “premeditated sports talk.” Webber and I love sports, and when we get going on games or players, it gives us off-time from golf. So with 10,000 amped-up fans waiting on 17, I said to Webb, “I think the Rockets are gonna beat the Warriors, and here’s why.” I took the underdog, and Webb jumped right in: “Are you kidding me? Golden State has too many superstars.” We went on like this all the way to the tee. Webb thought I had lost my mind. It was all basketball, no golf. Mission accomplished.

Before the round, I’d gotten the exact yardage on 17: We wanted to fly it 133 yards. The wind was out of the right, a little hurting. That’s a hard gap wedge for Webb, and that’s what we’d practiced on the range four hours earlier. (It’s nice when there are no surprises.) Webb was decisive, so I just gave him my standard send-off: “Be fully committed.”

He hit a good shot into the slope on the left side of the green, leaving 55 feet to the back-right hole. I’ll admit when I was holding the pin, with the bulkhead 12 feet behind me, I thought, Just don’t putt it in the water. That green is so fast, the ball did trickle all the way to the fringe. Exhale. Webb made the 10-footer, and 15 minutes later we were celebrating. —With Peter Morrice

Coming soon: Paul Tesori’s video lesson on the finishing three holes at TPC Sawgrass.
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