Beside the 17th green at the TPC Sawgrass lies the 19th lawn, where spectators drink, gamble, nap, socialize, watch golf and drink. Brandon Freeman of Jacksonville takes the week of the Players off work so that he can hangout on the sun-drenched hillside on the left side of the hole, where he can see the tee shots and the green. Plus, it's close to a beer tent. So it's got that going for it, which is nice.
"You're rooting for balls to go in the water," Freeman, a dry-cleaner supplies salesman, said Thursday afternoon, after watching Tim Clark and Richard Sterne drown their tee shots, putting more pressure on the third member of the threesome, Mathias Gronberg. With Gronberg's ball in the air, the group of men beside Freeman stared with gaping mouths, eager to see what would happen.
The standard betting practice at No. 17 is this: everybody puts up a dollar (or $5 or $10) and picks a golfer from each group that comes through. Closest to the hole wins the pot. If all three balls are in the water, there's a carry-over to the next group. With Clark and Sterne already wet, there was even more rooting interest for Gronberg to find the drink, too.
"On Sunday, you want people to hit the green," Freeman said. "Most of the time, anyway. Last year, I wanted Sean O'Hair to knock it on the green. If Phil had knocked it in the water, I'd have been fine with that and I love Phil. But you got to root for the underdog."
With two balls in the water, somebody said, "These guys are good."
Somebody else said, "It isn't that hard a hole." To which somebody replied, "Apparently, it is."
Freeman has played the Stadium Course several times. His best score is 91, a round that featured one lone par-on the 17th.
On Thursday, he wore a contraption around his reddish neck that could replay all of the shots on No. 17, display the scorecard of every player in the field, and show the Golf Channel telecast, among other tricks he wasn't qualified to explain. "The girls they had explaining this thing were too hot-I couldn't concentrate," he said.
He also carried with him his more low-tech essentials. His pairing sheet was tucked into his pocket and his daily ticket was tied to a belt loop by a string. His glasses were in his hair and a beer was in his left hand. He pointed to the screen of his gizmo and said, "It's got a map that shows you all the beer tents."
Gronberg knocked his shot on the green, missing the flagstick by maybe a foot. There was a flurry of hand movements as dollar bills changed hands all round Freeman. Freeman tried to use his little around-the-neck screen to watch a replay, but he couldn't figure it out.
"I'm glad they moved the tournament from March to May," he said. "The weather's better, hotter." He took in the sights. "Women are wearing way less clothes."
A new threesome came to the tee and everybody reached into their pockets, fishing out a new round of damp dollar bills.