I don’t know if it was the weather or just everybody’s mood but this year’s Players had a whole different feel from Monday through Sunday. It’s always been a party, and for a long time, that seemed to be the main focus of the people attending. But this year the events themselves, from the Military Appreciation Day on Wednesday to the final round on Sunday all seemed to have a purpose and a full draw when it comes to what the week has become.
People wanted to be there. They wanted to be a part of the military job fair on Monday. They wanted to see the stars play on Tuesday and hear what they had to say. They wanted to hear Luke Bryan on Wednesday and they wanted to watch golf when the first ball was in the air early Thursday morning.
With the unseasonably mild weather in the second half of the week, the fans were out in record numbers. There were more people there on Friday than I’ve ever seen at the tournament. And attendance figures show there were even more fans there on Sunday. People seemed to be enjoying themselves.
The players all praised the golf course as “Tough but fair. And the greens are perfect.” So all the years of moaning about the Stadium course seem to be something of the past. Not every player has to like every course, but this year, the criticisms were muted. There were plenty of new places for fans to sit, get out of the sun, cool off, get a drink and watch golf on TV.
The tournament’s new Executive Director Matt Rapp has a vision that the Players should be Jacksonville’s Kentucky Derby. He’s from Louisville and wants to bring that feel to this event. So far, he’s been successful, putting in at least a dozen places where the average fan felt like they had their own chalet pass. They’re planning on doing more next year.
The one thing that bothered me was the heckling of Kevin Na during the final round. If you spend one minute with that guy you can’t help but root for him. He’s accountable for his recent slow-play problems and says, “It’s my fault and I’m trying to fix it.” But for some guys to boo him and heckle him during arguably the biggest round of his life was wrong and unfair.
It reminded me of Hal Valdez in 1987 when he jumped into the water right before Jeff Sluman had a putt in the playoff against Sandy Lyle to win the tournament. As a spectator, it’s not our place to have a hand in the competition. It’s akin to jumping on the field and catching a ball in a baseball or football game. Na’s a nice player and I hope he gets his demons in order.