PGA Tour Confidential: The Waste Management Phoenix Open

PGA Tour Confidential: The Waste Management Phoenix Open

The scene at the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale is unlike anything else in golf.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Every week of the 2011 PGA Tour season, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group will conduct an e-mail roundtable. Check in on Mondays for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Phoenix is known for its large, rowdy crowds, particularly on the par-3 16th hole. There is certainly a buzz there. Is this something other Tour events should consider adopting? Or is the Phoenix way successful because it is unique?

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Phoenix is one-of-a-kind, and should remain that way.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Phoenix is a blast, but walking around this week was sensory overload. It definitely doesn’t feel like a golf tourney. It’s a great time but I think one is enough.

Click here to submit a question for Alan’s next mailbag.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Can’t adopt or transplant their joie de vivre. It’s organic. Some events just have it.

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: Leave the loud, beer-guzzling stadium atmosphere to Phoenix. The Tour doesn’t need to become a carnival act from week to week. Golf shouldn’t try to be something that it’s not to draw fans.

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Phoenix is unique. The old Tour stop in Greensboro used to have the same sort of deal on a par-3, but eventually tournament organizers put the kibosh on it.

John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: Phoenix is unique, all right, but I’m surprised that other Tour stops haven’t copied the formula. It’s pretty much what baseball figured out in the last decade, that you can draw crowds of young people (or families) to the stadium for the “total experience.” Half the crowd at a ballpark these days ignores the ball game; it’s the mixed drinks at the concourse bar that pay the bills.

Shipnuck: I didn’t see many families, John! But nubile young women in high heels? Plenty of them.

Garrity: It’s the same principle, though. The tournament or ball game becomes a backdrop for your party or your family outing. If the home team wins, all the better, but hardly anybody cares.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: In Phoenix, the golf in the afternoon is the under-card for the party at night.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Feels right in Phoenix, though I remember the old Buick Open at Warwick Hills trying some rowdiness on its par-3 17th. Seems to work best in the desert.

Bamberger: It would be weird to try to push the Phoenix vibe anywhere else. It would be like bringing Mardi Gras from New Orleans to … Atlanta. Or the Philadelphia Mummers … anywhere.

David Dusek, deputy editor, I’m sure the PGA Tour would love getting 500,000+ people to attend more tournaments, whether the atmosphere was organic or not.

Shipnuck: I do agree tourneys should try harder to be fan-friendly. Busing in, having to hoof it in the sun, getting yelled at by Steve Williams — it’s not easy being a golf fan. More diversions and gathering spots would be helpful.

Lipsey: Some tournaments, especially on the Champions circuit, give away tickets and nobody goes. Golf has a tough sell to draw fans when Tiger and Phil aren’t around.

Garrity: But the lesson of Phoenix is that you don’t need Tiger — not if you’re throwing the biggest party of the year. The Mardi Gras vibe could definitely work at other venues.

Hack: I just think if you have too many Mardi Gras atmospheres, it isn’t special anymore. I don’t want to see ivy on every MLB outfield wall. Wrigley’s is fine.

Dusek: The PGA Tour event in Hartford has drawn HUGE crowds for years and is fanatically supported by the community. It’s totally fan-friendly and family-friendly. I think the bottom line is that every Tour stop has to figure out what works for the area and community, then give the people what they want.

Van Sickle: A number of tourneys have been able to attain that status of “the place to go,” whether big name golfers play or not. Colonial was big for years and attracted fans as much for its frozen margarita stands and reputation for halter tops. The Byron Nelson usually draws big crowds, too, and has long been a meeting spot for singles. Hartford was the only thing that happened all summer in Hartford. It’s nothing new, just taken to the ultimate in Phoenix.

Jeff Ritter, senior producer, Phoenix is special, but why wouldn’t a few other sites borrow that playbook to juice their own events, especially those that are struggling? (New Orleans, or anything on the fall series.) It would be impossible to re-create the Scottsdale scene, but more fan-friendly fun at Tour stops would be a positive.

Charlie Hanger, executive editor, Maybe not so much the booze and rowdiness, but that sort of good-spirited interaction between players and fans would be fantastic to replicate elsewhere. (Whether you could replicate it without the booze is another question.) It would be great to see players throwing hats to the crowd and high-fiving fans more than once a year.

Garrity: Jeff’s right, New Orleans should be the party tourney.

Van Sickle: You’ve got to have some wide open spaces to make this work. Many courses are in residential areas that wouldn’t put up with the nightly noise and can’t handle the traffic or parking. Try getting 100,000 fans on the grounds at Westchester. Hartford used to draw big on weekends, upwards or 80,000 or 90,000, but that was more about the Jaycees giving away tickets to everybody and summer in Connecticut being incredibly boring.

Stephanie Wei, contributor, SI Golf+: The now defunct stop in Detroit tried to recreate 16 with the par-3 17th. Kevin Streelman said they did a good job of making it a lively atmosphere, similar to 16 here, but they still made it their own.

Ryan Reiterman, senior producer, It really seems like it’s become a one-day event at the 16th. The crowds looked pretty sparse on Thursday and Friday (I know the cold weather didn’t help). And even yesterday after Phil went through, the stands cleared out.

Shipnuck: Not true, Ryan. The crowds were still big even with very cold weather. Not as big as usual but still monstrous compared to any other event.

Reiterman: Just going by what I saw on TV at 16. There were a lot of empty seats, and it wasn’t at the end of the day. But no doubt Phoenix draws a lot more than most. And it’s definitely refreshing to see more young faces.

Garrity: I saw the empty seats, too, but there are some sections around the tee that stay empty because the fans are in the adjoining party rooms. They should put cardboard patrons in those seats, the way they do for movies.

Van Sickle: The tourney put a lot of luxury boxes around the tee in order to move the rowdies farther from the action and to become less of a distraction. The luxury box folks tend to be quieter, older and, yes, more likely to be absent.

Wei: I love the model of the Phoenix Open, especially the 16th hole. It might seem like a little much if you’re not there to experience the antics, but I’ve spent some time out on 16 this week and I love the atmosphere. You actually feel like you’re at a baseball or basketball game. Yesterday D.A. Points backed off his shot and encouraged the crowd to cheer, and he almost holed out.

The tourney brings the fans out in droves, and even if some never see a shot, it is still a positive to get people out there. I have some friends who came out yesterday (and are golfers) who couldn’t believe they were at a golf tournament. I think it’d be cool if other stops created a similar atmosphere, not exactly the same but their own thing that would break down the stuffiness that is synonymous with golf.

Tell us what you think: Could Phoenix’s party atmosphere be replicated at other events? Which ones?

Godich: Golf Channel went head-to-head with the Super Bowl. We all know who won there. Would all parties have been better served with an 18-hole finish on Monday?

Van Sickle: When the leaders finished the third round Sunday afternoon, with 90 minutes until Super Bowl kickoff, there was a mass exodus of fans.

Bamberger: There are so many extra viewers for the Super Bowl, you might get more spillover viewers on a Sunday night finish than on a Monday. But the Tour always wants to finish on Sunday, especially with a long week at Pebble coming up. Phoenix on a hangover post Super Bowl Monday is not what the Tour wants, either.

Van Sickle: A 54-hole tourney that ended Sunday before the game, or a 72-hole tourney that ended with 18 on Monday, allowing play on Sunday to end before the game, would have been the choice of almost all the players, fans and media. I bet Jim Nantz was thrilled to be commentating on golf while the Super Bowl’s first half was in progress.

Evans: The Tour has to do Tour business. It has to play golf until it’s dark. Plus, the players don’t want a Monday finish on their normal traveling day.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I agree. If it’s playable, they should play no matter what the counter-programming is.

Dusek: It’s a no-win scenario for the PGA Tour. This weekend, and Monday, the Super Bowl dwarfs everything. Outside the Valley of the Sun, only hardcore golf fans are aware that this tournament is happening. A Monday finish just makes those hardcore fans set their DVRs so they can watch the golf when they come home Monday night.

Tell us what you think: Should the Tour have saved all 18 holes for a Monday finish, rather than air part of the round directly against the Super Bowl?

Godich: Phil Mickelson showed last week that he’s still got plenty of game left, and he announced he was done tinkering with his swing. This week started with even more promise before he was derailed by a handful of crooked tee shots and a sloppy double-bogey at the short 17th. So, two starts in, who’s buying Phil? And who’s selling?

Lipsey: I’ll buy Phil for a couple of wins, maybe a major. Lots of mediocrity mixed into that. But he’ll peak a few times for sure. That’s his style.

Morfit: I’m still buying. It’s been a weird start-and-stop week in Phoenix. Even a hot player can have one bad round, as Bill Haas did on Sunday at Torrey. Look where he is now.

Bamberger: You can imagine Phil, many years from, living in a nursing home, telling his roomie he’s thinking about adding a 72-degree wedge with negative bounce. I’m buying, but he’ll never stop tinkering. By the way, for whatever reason, I think he’s making the most rhythmic, powerful, controlled swing I’ve ever seen him make, even with the errant shots.

Dusek: His swing looks so much smoother and on balance.

Wei: I’m not sold on Lefty. I think he’s a little too soft, comfortable with the money he has and maybe lacking the drive to get to the goal he’s set for himself of 50 wins.

Reiterman: He’s had enough drive to get 38 wins and four majors.

Shipnuck: I think Phil looks more focused and relaxed than he has in a couple of years. We know he has the physical talent. If he’s ready to play every week, he’ll have a big year.

Evans: Phil will be Phil, as the cliché goes. He’s up and down, great and mediocre, tired but inspired by Amy and the kids. He’ll bring plenty of game to the Masters.

Van Sickle: Phil will be all the way back when he closes the deal and wins some tournaments. He was iffy with some short putts Sunday, not the first time for that. The first thing that goes for the best golfers, from what I’ve seen, is the ability to put four good rounds together. As stars age, they can still put together three good ones, then maybe only two. Phil has the kind of ability that you can never count out, but at 40 he’s no different than he’s ever been. His game is mercurial. He’ll never be consistent. He might bounce back and win in L.A. by 15.

Dusek: I’ll buy some shares in Phil Mickelson right now because I can’t think of anything Phil’s Fanatics should want to hear more than he’s not tinkering with his swing anymore.

Hanger: I’m also dubious about how long that “not tinkering” thing is going to last. The vegetarianism didn’t seem to stick.

Wei: Yeah, Phil seems to change his mind on a weekly basis. But I do agree with you guys that he has a refreshed look on life and golf after what he’s been through the past few years.

Hack: I’m buying Phil, even with the arthritis and the occasional big number (see double bogey, 17th hole, third round). He’s still motivated, and he knows Tiger is still searching. Phil’s time to pounce is now.

Garrity: Phil will be a factor until he’s tripping on his beard because he genuinely loves being inside the ropes. He and Arnie are blessed in that respect.

Tell us what you think: What do you expect from Mickelson this season?

Godich: It seemed like it was only yesterday that Thomas Bjorn was throwing away the 2003 British Open on the 70th hole at Royal St. George’s. Starting this week, he was 134th in the World Rankings but won going away over a pretty strong field at the Qatar Masters for his 11th Euro tour victory. Does the Great Dane have the game to become a major player again?

Dusek: Han fik ingen skud. (Translation: “He’s got no shot.”)

Hack: Wouldn’t bet the rent.

Shipnuck: Nope.

Lipsey: No. A fluky win here and there, yes. But nothing sustained.

Herre: Alas, poor Bjorn. Too many demons to be a force.

Wei: Bjorn is way past his prime. Great win this week, but winning majors at 40? Naw.

Morfit: I doubt it. He never won a major before, and he’s no longer in his prime. Also, he has other commitments on the Euro tour.

Garrity: I think it’s too late for Bjorn to be a world-beater again, but what a remarkable comeback. I remember one Euro tour event a few years back where it didn’t look like he would finish. He kept hitting tee shots into the water on 18, and it would have surprised no one if he’d thrown himself in the drink and drowned.

Shipnuck: But even without a major, he will likely get to be a Ryder Cup captain, which speaks to the respect he commands in Europe.

Hack: True. Seems like his peers enjoy his honesty. Bjorn is a complex fellow. He isn’t afraid to talk about the things in the game that are confounding. Almost all golfers have demons. Bjorn talks about his.

Van Sickle: I wish Bjorn would go on a tear, though. He’s one of the game’s best, most thoughtful interviews, ever.

Bamberger: I think what Bjorn showed is just what King Louis showed at St. Andrews last year: the difference between No. 1 and No. 200 is razor-thin. If you get the putter going, the confidence going, some weather breaks and some pairings you like, anything can happen over the course of 72 holes. That is part of the fun.

Evans: Bjorn won in Qatar. Westwood and Kaymer were very mediocre this week on a tough Qatar course, and they are at the top of everybody’s best-in-the-world list. So one tournament doesn’t tell me anything about a player. Let’s see how Bjorn plays over the next three months.

Garrity: Westwood and Kaymer were in the field, and you admit that it was a tough course — those don’t sound like reasons to discount Bjorn’s victory. Besides, the last few years he couldn’t have beaten Rush and Ray in a Haney Ranch skins game. It’s an incredible achievement for Bjorn to win again.

Van Sickle: If he does become a major player again, we’ll have to endure another round of those “Bjorn again” headlines. We might even write some ourselves.

Ritter: Already have one queued up, Gary: The Bjorn Supremacy.

Mike Walker, senior editor, Golf Magazine: No name puns in headlines! That’s my Bjorn Ultimatum.

Tell us what you think: Should we expect anything more from Bjorn? Do you have your own ‘Bjorn’ headline?

Godich: You-know-who is back in action next week, hopping across the pond to play in Dubai. Look into your crystal ball and complete this sentence: Tiger Woods will …

Shipnuck: … get way more attention than he deserves.

Herre: … not put together four good rounds.

Morfit: … keep trying, and keep being reminded of how great he was and no longer is.

Evans: … play inconsistent golf with a lot of birdies and bogeys, and with enough swing tinkering to satisfy all of our Top 100 Teachers.

Van Sickle: … still have better chemistry with Hank Haney than Rush Limbaugh.

Dusek: … continue the process, but likely not be a factor on Sunday.

Lipsey: … collect a big appearance fee.

Reiterman: … not be playing the Al Ruwaya Golf Course.

Wei: … finish in the top 10 if he gets out of his head.

Hack … shoot three rounds in the 60s and one in the 70s and finish T17.

Walker: … collect a big check in the Middle East while the PGA Tour visits America’s No. 2 market, which is also where he grew up.

Garrity: … be asked to recall the year he messed up the closing holes, handing the Dubai Desert Classic to — Thomas Bjorn!

Van Sickle: … win and shut us all up.

Tell us what you think: Finish the sentence yourself: This week Tiger Woods will…


EDITOR’S NOTE: Roundtable was conducted before Monday’s finish, where Mark Wilson defeated Jason Dufner in a playoff.

Godich: Phoenix will finish on Monday. Pick a winner. I’ll take Haas.

Shipnuck: Mark Wilson. Because I’m playing a practice round with him Tuesday at Monterey Peninsula Country Club!

Lipsey: Two Gloves! Love that man.

Walker: I’m with Rick. Two Gloves will be golf’s next folk hero. A genuine guy with a great backstory.

Lipsey: He might never go big-time, but Two Gloves has lag and balance and real game. He’s going to make money out there.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: Don’t bet on it Rick. He’s already been up once, lost his card, went back to the Nationwide, and is making a second pass now. He started well last time, too. Talk about not being able to put four good ones together.

Morfit: Two Gloves.

Bamberger: Vijay, because of his new mantra: I deserve to win because I’m rich enough, smart enough, and gosh-darn it, people like me.

Dusek: Geoff Ogilvy.

Van Sickle: Mark Wilson. Best putter on the board.

Reiterman: I like Wilson too, although Two Gloves is fun to watch. Looks like a firecracker goes off in his pants right before impact.

Wei: Tommy Two Gloves! He’s just smart enough to avoid getting in his own way.

Hack: Dos Guantes (two gloves).

Evans: Haas, silky-smooth like his dad, Jay, looks the most comfortable, but I’m hoping Two Gloves can hang on.

Godich: I am pulling for Two Gloves as well. The folks at Augusta National will just love him.

Bamberger: He’s Woody Austin meets Boo Weekley. They’ll love him on Washington Road especially.

Tell us what you think: Who’s your pick to win on Monday in Phoenix?