On any given day at The Players Championship there are enough floral print dresses to sustain Lilly Pulitzer’s fiscal year, alcohol consumed to understand the tournament’s partnership with Uber and children scrambling to get a glimpse of the game’s biggest stars to make the outlandish appear routine.
Swirling winds have made scoring difficult, but it has not deterred the zeal spectators, golfers and others have for the tournament that has been a Northeast Florida staple for more than four decades. These are the tales of TPC:
No. 9 in the sunshine
Sandy Ilog has attended the tournament at least a half dozen times. Friday afternoon, she was stationed in the shade behind the green at the 583-yard ninth hole.
“If it wasn’t for this 80-something degree weather on this nice golf course, where everyone knows someone, I (may not) be here,” said Ilog, a Jacksonville Beach resident. “Who wouldn’t want to come out here and people watch, get out of the office (and) on top of that, we can sneak some pictures of the professional golfers.”
There were times people were more concerned with clandestine images of Ilog, as well as her friends, Lea Jackson and Megan Hudack, than what was transpiring at the par-5 hole.
Zac, Hannah and Zara West were not among those snapping away at Ilog and her friends. The Wests were, however, camped out behind the ninth hole as well. The Fleming Island residents have come to The Players Championship every year since moving to Northeast Florida from Tanzania in 2013.
“We want to support the great stuff that happens in the Jacksonville area,” said Zac, a missionary who uses the tournament as an opportunity to expose his 7-year-old daughter to golf.
Sitting in a lawn chair a few feet away from the rope line, Zara sported big hair and a bigger smile because Jason Bohn gave her his golf ball after draining a 9-foot putt to save par. Bohn missed the cut, shooting 7-over 151, but that didn’t dampen Zara’s enthusiasm for his gift.
That’s exactly what Sgt. Keith Oke likes to see: People enjoying the tournament, but doing so safely.
Oke has worked for the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office for 18 years. For 17 of them, he has worked security for The Players Championship.
“Like every young deputy, they said, ‘We need help.’ ” Oke said, while seated on a golf cart just off the ninth fairway. “An opportunity to make money is always healthy for the family.”
Oke is a golf fan. He is also the father of five, which means his own time on the course is next to never.
“I personally enjoy working the event,” Oke said. “It’s a break from the norm. I like golf and I enjoy watching golf while I’m working. That’s consistent for everyone who is here.”
There are scores of Sheriff’s Office deputies working the event off duty through a partnership with the tournament. Oke always enjoys the tournament, but rues the fact he has yet to see a hole-in-one. There have been 13 recorded since Oke worked the event — most recently by Sergio Garcia on Thursday — but he only heard about it through the roars ringing through the piney woods.
A Rose on the mantle
Justin Rose is not one of the PGA Tour golfers who has carded an ace at The Stadium Course. The 36-year-old is playing in The Players Championship for a 14th straight year. A 71 on Saturday has left him even par for the tournament and in a tie for 25th place.
Saturday, Rose quipped he keeps returning to Ponte Vedra Beach in the hope his luck will change .
“It has that something special, something different,” Rose said. “The golf course itself is one that I don’t love. I love it, but it doesn’t love me. I haven’t played well here. It’s an event I keep coming back to, hoping it’s going to change. I’ve had one fourth place finish other than that I’ve been pretty much nowhere. One year it may turn for me. This is an event alongside the major championships you would love to have on your CV. That’s why we keep coming back.”
While the tournament itself hasn’t been memorable for the Olympic champion, his annual trip to St. Johns County usually produces a memento that cannot be bought.
“It’s an event I always come to with the family. We didn’t do it this year, but we always rent a nice house on the beach and really try to enjoy the area.
“I do love it up here. It’s a good part of the state. Normally, we get family photographs done on the beach. We have a wall at home, which has for the last five or six years all the family portraits that we’ve had done at The Players Championship right down on the beach.”
Billy Long didn’t meet Hatton or Rose while attending a practice round earlier this week, but the St. Augustine resident has found the players to be very fan friendly. Billy and his son Will ran into former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, Canadian Jamie Lovemark and found Daniel Berger to be personable enough to try and give Will a fist bump.
Considering William Long V is 22-months old, Billy Long was quite impressed that the German would engage with him. Long has attended a handful of times, but has come more consistently now that his daughter is involved with The First Tee of North Florida. This week was his son’s first Players Championship.
Billy celebrated the moment by taking a picture of Will in his stroller with the green at No. 18 in the distance.
“For me, it’s the atmosphere, the excitement,” Long said. “The views, the food, the concessions and the grandstands, it’s almost like a concert. This is like a concert, its high energy.”