SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Tom Gillis played hockey on a frozen Michigan lake when he was home for the Christmas holidays. The opening round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open here Thursday was nothing like that, of course.
“This felt a little colder today,” Gillis said.
Welcome to the place known as the Valley of the Sun. It’s Super Bowl week, and you’ll keep hearing about the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field because the Green Bay Packers are playing in the big game Sunday, but here they’re talking about the frozen tundra of the TPC at Scottsdale.
The Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce doesn’t want you to hear this, but yes, winter does come to the Phoenix area every so often. Wednesday it was wicked cold for the desert, with temperatures in the upper 30s and biting, 30-mile-per-hour winds that caused the cancellation of the pro-am tournament. On Thursday, sub-freezing temperatures caused a four-hour delay until the frost faded and the greens thawed out. The delay meant that the afternoon wave of players, none of whom got in more than nine holes on Thursday, were looking at a long Friday.
The players who did finish Thursday may not get their second rounds going until late Friday or, more likely, Saturday because another cold delay is expected. Gillis was one of those who finished the first round Thursday. He’s tied at six under with Bill Haas, Tom Lehman and Jason Bohn.
It was still chilly when play began Thursday. “It was 32 or 33 it seemed like when we were getting ready to tee off, maybe a little more than that,” Gillis said. “But it just seemed colder than 15 degrees up there [in Michigan], that’s all I know.”
Gillis said he wore the same clothes Thursday as he did for his hockey outing. Never mind Jhonattan Vegas and his victory at the Bob Hope Classic — the surprise of the year on the PGA Tour so far is the Phoenix freeze the last two days. The fountain in front of the entrance to a nearby Courtyard Marriott, where some players stayed, looked more like an ice sculpture.
“I never even came out to the course Wednesday,” said Lucas Glover, a former U.S. Open champion. “I don’t think anything thawed out yesterday.”
Glover looked prepared for the conditions after his round. (He shot 66, by the way.) He wore a thermal layer and sported a relatively new, thick beard that’s drawing a lot of comments. Fellow tour player Justin Rose recently tweeted, “winning a U.S. Open is so easy a caveman can do it,” and linked to a photo of Glover, nearly unrecognizable with his new facial hair. It’s the leader in the clubhouse as the golf Tweet of the Year.
The beard, Glover said, was two months in the making. He doesn’t have plans for it. “I was just lazy; it was something to do,” he said.
Glover said he got comments about his beard on every hole. “I get a lot of Grizzly Adams and Brian Wilson.”
The cold air affected everyone and caused adjustments. In desert conditons, Joe Ogilvie normally hits an 8-iron 165 yards. “Today, I hit 8-iron about 145 yards,” he said. “By the time I get to play here Saturday afternoon, it’ll probably be going 165 again.”
Apparently, Ogilvie made all the right adjustments. He shot 67.
Bohn said the key to his round was spending 90 minutes warming up, 40 minutes more than he normally does. “My body moved well in this cold weather, which is unique for an old guy like me,” the 37-year-old said. “So I was very pleased.”
Glover played in a ski hat. So did Ben Crane, Bohn and a number of other players. Phil Mickelson, a former Phoenix resident who now lives in San Diego, seemed to bask in the cold, according to Haas, who was in his group.
“I had four layers on; it was tough to get going,” said Haas, who shot 31 on his second nine. “Phil was in short sleeves. I don’t know how he was doing it because I don’t think it was that warm.”
After Wednesday, however, Thursday felt almost balmy. “I expected the course to be frozen and balls bouncing on the greens quite a ways,” said Mickelson, who finished second last week at Torrey Pines and opened with a solid 67. “The greens were receptive. When the sun came out, I started to get a little bit warm. It felt great out there. For as cold as it’s been, we had a great day to play.”
The afternoon highs on the weekend are expected to return to normal, the low 70s.