PGA Tour Confidential: The Phoenix Open

PGA Tour Confidential: The Phoenix Open

One week after giving up a big final-round lead, Kyle Stanley rallied for his first career PGA Tour victory.
Ross D. Franklin / AP

Every Sunday night, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group conducts an e-mail roundtable. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in our all-new live Readers' Confidential or in the comments section below.

John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: Here we are talking golf on Super Bowl Sunday. Crazy? Not really. Not when it's reported that 173,210 "golf fans" turned out in Scottsdale on Saturday for the third round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open. (That's the all-time, single-day record for a pro golf event.) The golfers drew a much bigger crowd than attended the game at Lucas Oil Stadium, so I have to ask: Is desert golf now bigger than the Super Bowl?

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Only in land mass.

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Good one, John. That's like asking if NASCAR is bigger than the Super Bowl. Nothing is bigger than the Super Bowl, at least in the U.S. The World Cup dwarfs everything.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I guess it means folks are spending money from the Midwest to the desert. You should see these streets in Indy. They look like South Beach. It's a non-stop party. Makes me think the U.S. economy is bouncing back.

Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: If you make it fun, they will come. The way the young guys like Bubba Watson, Ben Crane and Rickie Fowler played to the crowd was great, and it came across as natural. Not bigger than the Super Bowl, but a better appetizer than the 12-hour pre-game show.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: PGA Tour golf is miniscule in the grand scheme of the sports world. Tiger Woods is very big. The Super Bowl is bigger. World Cup soccer, as Jim said, dwarfs everything.

Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: Attendance Sunday was only 58,447. Nothing is bigger than the Super Bowl. It wouldn't be a bad idea to end this tourney on Saturday, but I have to say, it was a lot less claustrophobic trying to make my way around today compared to the mob yesterday!

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, It doesn't touch the Super Bowl, but it's great to see attendance is booming. Now, if Phoenix wants to get to the next level, two words: Bud Bowl.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: America comes to a stop for the Super Bowl. That doesn't even happen for the State of the Union address. The party in Phoenix doesn't stop until they shut the bars.

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David Dusek, deputy editor, No way, but it does show that when the vibe and atmosphere of a PGA Tour event match the location, people respond. The Phoenix/Scottsdale area is full of people who like to have a good time in the sun, drink and play golf. The folks who run the Phoenix Open are smart to give 'em what they want.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Phoenix is a force of nature, but probably not a model the Tour wants to duplicate every week.

Wei: Why not? At least it gets people to the golf tournament, even if few actually watch a shot. Half the battle is getting people to come to the event. Maybe some of them will actually start watching and maybe even pick up golf. I know that's a stretch, but it's better than the sparse crowds at your average Tour event. I love the energy here in Phoenix.

Herre: Greensboro used to have an atmosphere similar to Phoenix's. The Tour was a little more buttoned down back then and curbed the enthusiasm — i.e., moved the beer tent.

Wei: Don't let the Thunderbirds hear you say that, Jim. They went to a few events this past year and were told the Byron Nelson was comparable. They scoffed. Here are the final attendance numbers. The T-birds predicted 175,000 for Saturday…pretty good estimate! (The good weather helped.)

Van Sickle: Hartford and Flint had big party atmospheres once upon a time, too. Not quite at Phoenix level though.

Garrity: The Tour probably couldn't duplicate that scene if it wanted to. I think the fact that it's Super Bowl week explains why Phoenix has become so big. It's a mob of young people getting an early start on their Super Bowl parties.

Mick Rouse, editorial assistant, SI Golf Group: I think people enjoy the atmosphere and getting to see the Tour players in a bit of a different light. It's what makes U.S. Open tennis such a great time at Flushing Meadows. I agree that it may not be the easiest thing to duplicate, but I think it's more than just a pre-game party. I think the fans would still come out, no matter the date.

Ritter: They could never re-create the scene at the 16th, but what harm would it do if the Tour tried to create another "party hole" at a different event? As for potential candidates, New Orleans immediately comes to mind.

Wei: They should have a 16th hole at every event.

Bamberger: Especially Augusta.

Van Sickle: It's just not that easy. For one thing, no other tournament has any place on-site to park 60,000 or 70,000 cars the way Phoenix does. You can try, but you just can't get that many people to ride a shuttle bus to the course. Not gonna happen.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Is desert golf on the rise? Should the Tour create more "party holes" like the 16th in Scottdale?

Kyle Stanley, final round, 2012 Phoenix Open

Christian Petersen / Getty Images
Kyle Stanley shot a bogey-free 65 in the final round to win the Waste Management Phoenix Open

Garrity: Kyle Stanley, who blew last week's Farmer's Insurance Open when he tripled the 72nd hole, came from eight strokes behind in Scottsdale to bag his first tour win. We're told he got lots of verbal support from sympathetic players and fans, who didn't want him to be "scarred" by his San Diego flameout. But is that what usually happens to high-profile losers? Do they retreat from the game, their confidence shattered, and wind up driving a tractor in Laredo?

Lipsey: Talent doesn't disappear, not when there's motivation behind it. Stanley clearly has both in great quantities.

Bamberger: Stan the man looks like a true jock with his head on straight. Awesome.

Van Sickle: If you're a golfer, you keep on playing. Did Langer quit after missing that Ryder Cup putt? No, he won in Germany the next week. Did America quit after the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? No.

Gorant: It's really impressive. Stud move.

Rouse: It's like Rory last year at Augusta and Congressional, just on a much smaller scale. Stanley obviously has the game, and it's great to see an athlete overcome those mental demons. No matter how much encouragement he was receiving, he had to have been thinking about last week's meltdown.

Wei: I'm pretty sure Kyle can empathize with what Spencer Levin is going through right now. Really impressive. Bobby Brown, who caddied for Kyle during his brief split with Dustin Johnson, told me on Wednesday: "If anybody can fight back, that kid has got alligator skin. It's tough. He might get a little emotional, shed a few tears and stuff like that, but if nothing else, this is going to get him to work that much harder, so that it doesn't happen again."

Hack: Kyle Stanley is like a great defensive back. You get burned for a big touchdown, then you come back, line up and intercept the next pass. Darn impressive, young man.

Dusek: Good for Kyle, getting to exorcise those demons just seven days after flaming out. He's got a lot of game, and he showed a lot of guts just by being near the top of the leaderboard.

Van Sickle: It's easy to get carried away when any player wins. They always look good. But I think Stanley has the potential to surpass even Webb Simpson as the best young American player and, in short order, become the best American player pending Tiger's outcome. He's got the goods, including the kind of ridiculous length that you need if you have any inclination of being a dominant player. Not the last we've heard from him at all. He could take it deep this year.

Wei: Stanley is no doubt talented, and he has a serious work ethic. This guy makes Vijay look lazy! Also from Bobby Brown earlier this week: "Every day off, we would sit there for two to three hours, we would hit little piercing 60, 70, 80, 90, 100, buck-10 shots. I would stand on the green, and he would want feedback on every single one — what did that do, how close did it land, how much did it spin, how did it react?"

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Is Stanley set to become a rising star in U.S. golf? Do you think he'll win again this season?

Spencer Levin, final round, 2012 Phoenix Open

Allan Henry / U.S. Presswire
Spencer Levin took a six-shot lead into the final round before shooting a 75 to finish third.

Garrity: So what about Spencer Levin? He "pulled a Stanley" in Scottsdale by blowing a six-stroke final-round lead. Does that make him the favorite next week at Pebble?

Gorant: Unfortunately not. It makes him the longest of longshots.

Bamberger: I'm afraid it will be harder for him. Swings that fast get faster and faster in the heat.

Herre: Levin was burning the edge of the cup all day on Saturday. He really looks good with that Belly Baroo. His swing is a blur, but the short game is pure.

Lipsey: Golf is a game of choking. Those who contain it and recover the best thrive.

Wei: I hate to say this, but I'm not surprised. Levin was second through 54 holes and played in the final group at Bay Hill last year. It was a totally different situation and golf course, but he started shaky and it was obvious he let the nerves creep in. He puts too much pressure on himself in the final day and needs to loosen up.

Dusek: Levin's a fast-twitch kind of player, so he'll either shake this off and show some grit, or he'll get an ulcer. Only time will tell.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Do you think Levin will bounce back?

Garrity: Somebody must have sold the Wayback Machine to the Qatar Masters. The winner, Paul Lawrie, had barely been heard from since his British Open playoff victory over Jean Van de Velde and Justin Leonard in 1999. The fourth-place finisher in Qatar was John Daly, who has one victory to show for his last 17 years on tour. Could either of these guys be the Darren Clarke of 2012?

Herre: Doubt it, but I was surprised to see Daly do so well. It's been forever.

Lipsey: Lawrie's been on a nice comeback since last year, when he won a European event after nine years in purgatory.

Gorant: It seems the lesson of last year — Clarke, Thomas Bjorn, etc. — is that anyone can win at any time. Of the two, I think Lawrie would be the bigger surprise.

Bamberger: Lawrie has a beautiful swing. His drive I don't know about. Daly for pure talent must still be in the elite. Either could win a British Open. I'd guess Daly would be the more likely of the two.

Ritter: Given their track records, I could see either of them contending at the British Open for a round or two. But actually pull a Clarke and win it? Nah.

Van Sickle: Paul Lawrie still has the build and easy tempo of Ernie Els, just not the resume. No reason he can't attain a few goals on his second go-round.

Rouse: Is there anything Daly does that shocks you anymore? You have to throw logic out the window with this guy. Winning the British or any other major would just add to the enigma that is John Daly.

Wei: John Daly actually finished a golf tournament? That's breaking news.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Could Daly or Lawrie make some noise in the majors this season?

Garrity: Phil Mickelson has sued a Canadian internet provider, hoping to flush out a pair of serial defamers who have posted scurrilous accusations about his private life. These outlandish rumors have been circulating for years. My question is: Why Phil? Why all this nastiness toward a smiling superstar who signs every last autograph and is unfailingly polite?

Bamberger: Envy.

Van Sickle: Michael hit on it — envy. The rumors persist because a segment of the population wants to believe them, they want to believe that Phil isn't perfect and he isn't leading the perfect life. It also shows why the Internet needs a no-anonymity policy. We put our bylines on our stories. Anybody who posts online, we ought to be able to uncover their real name within two clicks.

Gorant: I've been asked about it by my dentist. It's amazing how this stuff just won't go away. It's like an urban legend.

Herre: I think Phil should have gone on the offensive almost a decade ago, when these rumors first started circulating.

Bamberger: Agree. The political operators say you should define them before they define you.

Gorant: From the start he's said he didn't want to give them any credibility by refuting them, but I guess he got sick of it. You have to figure his kids are getting old enough to be on the Internet now, and he wants it to finally stop.

Dusek: Add my name to the chorus seconding Michael's correct answer. It's as if some people don't want to accept that Mickelson is who we see. They assume he's acting and that the guy who makes millions, flies around in a private plane, has a beautiful family and plays a cool style of golf can't really be authentic.

Tell us what you think in the all-new readers' live Confidential or in the comments section below: Why is Mickelson a target for such sustained, vicious rumors?