Players strategy: How will the pros play No. 16 at TPC Sawgrass?
Let’s dive into the strategy on this hole that often determines the tournament’s outcome, and traditionally is the easiest hole on the course — playing to a stroke average of 4.641 since 1982.
Off the tee
The first decision that the player will need to make is with club selection off the tee. Combining a wind direction that will be out of the northeast (left to right and helping) for most of the week and the fact that it’s already a short par 5 at a mere 523 yards, driver isn’t always the correct play as it will be more difficult to fit into this fairway that bends to the left at about 260 yards off the tee.
Left-handers like Phil Mickelson or Bubba Watson can hit the more controllable power fade with their driver, but you’ll see Bryson DeChambeau and Rory McIlroy most likely take the fairway wood for the proper right to left shape to match the movement of the hole.
The ideal position for the tee shot will be in the left third of the fairway which opens up the green a lot more for the player where they won’t have to navigate the penalty area that is right and short of the putting surface.
Tee shots that find the right side of the fairway or the right rough will have the less advantageous angle, especially for the traditional front-right Sunday hole location, and the water looms large for a slight mis-hit shot.
Go for it or lay up?
Following the tee shot, the second shot now takes center stage. Should they go for it or lay it up? An exacting shot is required, but it’s a necessary risk to take as since 2003, the players who go for the green in two average 4.46 and are an astonishing 2,950 under par, whereas those who lay up average 4.96 and are only a combined 77 under par.
As they will be looking between 200 to 240 yards to the green, it’s an important risk to calculate if a player is looking to climb the leaderboard. What makes the second shot interesting is that it is helpful if the player hits a left-to-right shot into the putting surface, a shot that is contrary to the shot they just struck off the tee.
If a player does hit it in the rough and is forced to lay the ball up, the layup it must be far enough back as to not have the overhanging tree come into play for the third, especially for a hole location on the left side. A second shot going for the green from the rough will be simply rolling the dice.
Still work on the green
Once the player gets to the green, the heavy lifting is not completely done. In the last 7 years, the 16th green has an average ranking of 6th (6.42 to be exact) in greens most often three-putted as compared to the rest of the greens on the course.
Some of this has to do with the multi-tiered nature of the putting surface and some of it has to do with the fact that as players reach the green in two with longer clubs and have longer first putts. Also, one can’t negate the psychological aspect of the ability to pick up a shot with a two-putt birdie and the first putt being lagged too far from the hole in protection of that hopeful birdie.
The 16th will definitely play both a strategic and pivotal role in the finish here at TPC, and the winner will likely birdie this hole all four days. And if history has anything to say about it this year, it will all go down as it did with Fred Couples in 1996, Craig Perks in 2002 or Rickie Fowler in 2015 where a dramatic eagle propelled them towards holding the trophy at days’ end.
(Steve Scott is Golfweek’s Director of Instruction and is working the Players Championship as part of the PGA Tour Live crew.)