The flagship event of the PGA Tour -- The Players Championship -- takes place this week at the iconic TPC Sawgrass Players Stadium Course.
Featuring one of the most famous holes in golf with its par-3, 17th hole, island green, TPC Sawgrass is one of designer Pete Dye's greats.
Matt Kuchar returns as the defending champion and several of the world's best golfers enter this week having already won at least once in 2013.
Before the tournament teed off, we had the chance to catch up with TPC Sawgrass Senior Head Professional Matt Borocz for a little Q&A about all things Players Championship.
PGA.com: Thanks for joining us, Matt. The Players is always one of the most exciting tournaments on the PGA Tour schedule. If possible though, it might even be a little more exciting this year seeing as virtually all of the biggest names -- with the exception of Rory McIlroy, who has knocked on the door -- have already been victorious. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Brandt Snedeker, your defending champ Matt Kuchar, the list goes on. They've all won at least once in 2013. Can you tell us what that means in the lead up to the Players?
Borocz: It’s been an exciting start to the 2013 season. Look at the last three weeks: Graeme McDowell, Billy Horschel and Derek Ernst winning at the respective PGA Tour events. There has been a lot of positive buzz leading into the Championship week. The Players is excited to host the strongest field in golf.
PGA.com: I know you had some rough weather recently in the Ponte Vedra area. In fact, there were some images from as recently as Saturday that showed water all over the 18th fairway. A day later, it was gone. Luckily, the forecast looks great for the tournament. Just how incredible is the grounds crew at TPC Sawgrass? I'm blown away year in and year out with how they deal with whatever's thrown at them.
Borocz: Starting last Thursday through early Sunday morning we had over 10 inches of rain. Our Agronomy team received extra support with 70 volunteers from all over the world that support The Players week. The entire team: TPC Sawgrass, The Players volunteers and all of our vendors turned the property around in 48 hours. The inside the ropes areas dried up with the sunshine on Sunday and Monday.
Our team utilized 12-inch pumps to remove the water from low-lying areas, while adding additional pine straw and sand in those areas. On a daily basis our Agronomy team updates a blog -- tpcsawgrassagronomy.com. It’s been amazing to watch all the team work and operational logistics to prepare for the Championship. It’s been a true test of adversity, patience, hard work and long hours.
PGA.com: Let's go back to your defending champ for a minute, Matt Kuchar. For years now, he's established himself as a world-class player. Not that he needed validation, but if he did, it certainly came at TPC Sawgrass last year. So far, he's followed it up with a World Golf Championship win. What is it about Kuchar's game that makes him such a solid player, who is consistently contending in tournaments?
Borocz: Matt Kuchar has been an excellent Champion and ambassador of The Players. A few statistics for the past year: Only one missed cut in the last two years and finished in the top 25 for seven of the 10 events played this year. His all-around ranking on the PGA Tour for 2013 is 25th and fourth on the FedExCup season points. He is very competitive and demonstrates a never give up attitude.
PGA.com: For our readers out there who haven't been to TPC Sawgrass, can you explain the Circle of Champions?
Borocz: Excellent question... The Players Circle of Champions honors the past Champions’ and reigning Players Champion. Each plaque has the following: Year/Players Name/Country Flag/Tournament Score/TPC Sawgrass/Volunteer Chairman. At the completion of the final round or play-off, our volunteers will raise the country flag of The Players Champion. It’s another way that The Players honors the reigning Champion for the entire year. The Circle of Champions is a special site for our guests visiting the property.
PGA.com: There are so many great and memorable holes at TPC Sawgrass. Most notably, of course, the par-3 17th. Other than that iconic hole, which is your favorite and why?
Borocz: My personal favorite hole on The Players Stadium is hole No. 14. It’s a par 4, 481 yards from The Players tee and plays as one of the most difficult holes during the Championship.
In 2012, the 14th hole ranked as No. 1 in difficulty with a scoring average of 4.3 and yielded the lowest number of birdies. It starts with a very challenging tee shot. A fairway bunker extends down the left side with water lurking left of the bunker. To the right of fairway are grass mounds with thick bermuda rough. The player is left with a long shot into the green.
The second shot prefers a right-to-left shot into the green. If you miss the green in regulation you have your work cut out. The best place to miss the green in my opinion is the left bunker; missing to the right will leave a very difficult shot with the green sloping right-to-left. That’s just the beginning once the player arrives to the challenging putting surface.
Besides being a very difficult hole, I think it’s one of the most beautiful with the strategic fairway, water, bunkers, pines, live oak trees and flowers.
Enjoy watching The Players, everyone!