PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — TPC Sawgrass is going to play different this year with the Players Championship moving from May to March. We caught up with Tiger Woods’ caddie Joe LaCava on Wednesday to talk about the course, beginning with how much longer the dangerous par-4 18th will play this week.
“We hit a good 3-wood and 3-iron in there yesterday,” LaCava said of Woods’ Tuesday practice round. “With it being soft and no roll, and I think it’s going to play into the wind on the weekend, it’ll be a challenge, it will be tough. I think the year Tiger won he hit a 5-wood and a 9-iron.”
LaCava said the conditions don’t change where he looks to make up strokes. On the front, he would go after hole Nos. 2, 4 and 6. On the back, you need to get after it early on 10, 11, 12 because from 13 on it gets a lot tougher.
“Sixteen is a little bit of a breather, but then you’ve got to hang on after that,” he said. “The course is in great shape, I still think you’re going to see guys shoot some half-way decent scores. There are plenty of birdies out there but it’s going to play tough. I think you still have to be patient in general around here, you don’t want to get too aggressive.”
The common thought about TPC Sawgrass is that it’s not a course you want to try to play from behind at, because forcing the issue usually leads to big numbers. But LaCava has been around some pretty great players and sees things a bit differently, especially in March. He offered some first-hand examples from his time on Fred Couples’ bag.
“When Fred won in ’96 when I worked for him he was four back of the lead, shot 8 under and won by four,” he said. “And we played with Davis Love that one year when he shot 64 in the last round and came from behind, so it can be done. It’s not a course where you go out and think you’re going to shoot 64, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve seen it happen twice.”
As for Tiger?
“Yeah, he’s ready to go,” LaCava said.
Eddie Pepperell showed up to the group press conference for Players Championship first-timers 20 minutes late, slapped his cheeks a couple times, and then held court. As the minutes went by more and more tape recorders appeared in front of him.
The impish Englishman is never short for words or afraid to let you into his interesting world. Pepperell will play in his first Masters next month and is yet to visit Augusta National, but said on Wednesday that he’s had a vision or two about golf’s hallowed grounds.
“I’ve had a couple of dreams involving Augusta,” Pepperell said. “I had one where the range was on the 10th and you also teed off on the 10th, and you played down into the hills, and it was enormous, like abnormally big. And then I finished the 10th, and the 13th was the next hole and I had to climb a ladder to get to there. It was so vivid.”
Other first-timers preferred to talk about their favourite memory watching the Players on TV.
“And I don’t think I was drinking that night either,” Pepperell continued. “I’m sure it’s not going to be as crazy as that. But it’s in my mind somewhere.”
Last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Pepperell told Postmedia he had a swing epiphany while laying in bed before shooting a Friday 68.
“That’s gone,” he said Wednesday. “I think I’ve had about 18 since.”
BROOKS AND JACK
Jack Nicklaus once said that whenever he heard a player complain about the golf course he knew it was one less player he had to beat.
It seems three-time major champion Brooks Koepka is from a similar school of thought.
“The majors are, I don’t want to say easier, but I feel it kind of is,” he said on Wednesday. “You’ve got so many guys playing, a couple of them are mentally going to beat themselves up. Just in contention, if it’s tough, certain guys are going to throw themselves out, and it really kind of whittles down to a few players. Especially by Saturday you can pretty much almost predict who is going to be there come Sunday.”
Another way Koepka is a little old school is when it comes to using technology to work on his swing. Walking up and down the driving range on the PGA Tour any given week, you’ll see most players at some point looking at TrackMan numbers, or with their noses buried in a phone looking at video.
“I bought a TrackMan and I’ve used it probably once,” he said. “So I would say maybe the phone. I just look at the swing really quick for like two things. I keep it really simple … I don’t use any training aids. I just try to make sure posture’s good, I just go PGA: Posture, grip and alignment. I try to make those things the same every day and then just go from there.”
As for the whereabouts of Koepka’s TrackMan?
“My brother stole it.”
Practice freak Vijay Singh is in the field this week, but the 56-year-old has had to cut back on hitting balls on the range. On Tuesday, Singh hit two bags of balls, played nine holes and felt tired. “My mind is okay, but my body says no,” he said. How many bags of balls would he hit on any given day in his prime? “Until I’m ready,” he said. “And it could be five bags, 10 bags, I don’t know.” … Don’t get your hopes up yet, but you might catch a glimpse of a Canadian for once on a Thursday or Friday telecast. Adam Hadwin tees it up for the first two rounds with Ian Poulter and Marc Leishman. The group starts at 8:43 a.m. … Nick Taylor tees off at 12:45 p.m. and Corey Conners is first on the tee at 7:40 a.m.