SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Two things not associated with the Waste Management Phoenix Open were in abundance at Thursday’s opening round of the tournament.
Space, and relative serenity.
The masses of humanity that would have TPC Scottsdale teeming with activity in a typical year—hence, the event known as “The People’s Open”— were drastically limited to allow fans to move about freely and without being stuck in bottlenecks along the course.
At the PGA Tour’s most notorious hole, the 16th, reactions were subdued compared to how involved fans and players get with each other in a typical tournament.
It was more like The Few People’s Open. But some fans were just fine with that.
“I kind of like it to a certain degree,” said Scottsdale resident Chad Scuncio at the 16th hole on Thursday afternoon.
By mid-afternoon, there was more of a buzz at hole, with boos from the crowd for hooked tee shots from players Tyler Duncan and Grayson Murray.
“You can watch more golf without the madness. Walking around has been great. You can get as close to the green as you can,” Scuncio said.
The only drawback for Scuncio, who expects the atmosphere to be more lively on Friday and Saturday, was the absence of independent drink stands outside of the 16th hole.
It was quiet there in the morning hours as Xander Schauffele, Rory McIlroy and Daniel Berger walked up the tunnel to the tee. Schauffele and McIroy got a few shouts of encouragement from the handful of spectators in the reconfigured stadium hole, where suites replaced seating areas.
McIlroy dropped in a chip from just off the green for a birdie on the par three hole, and a fan yelled “Welcome to 16, Rory!”
McIlroy had never played the Phoenix Open before. It had never fit his schedule with him playing abroad at this time of year, and he admitted that the size of the crowd under non-pandemic circumstances was a drawback.
But the Open still offered an atmosphere, with more fans allowed than at other tournaments McIlroy has played in, and McIlroy decided to take part. He seems willing to return, in part because he likes the course and he wants to experience an actual 16th hole atmosphere, where there are thousands of fans right on top of the action and making noise.
“Yeah, I think I have to experience a real Phoenix Open at least once in my career. I think it’s important to do that. I’ll definitely be back when things are more normal,” McIlroy said.
“It was nice to play in front of people (Thursday),” McIlroy said. “Yeah, just to get clapped for some good shots and good putts and get encouragement from some greens to tees, it was really nice to see people out here.”
Jason Day hit his tee shot at 16, and a fan shouted “Dayyyyyy-yoooo!” Bubba Watson just missed a 36-foot putt on the 16th green that would have gotten him a birdie, and some groans came from those in the suites above the green.
The 16th hole is known for the cheers and boos fans rain down on the players, the boos for errant tee shots. In 2015 when Francesco Molinari aced the hole—the most recent player to do so—the crowd went so wild that they tossed cups of beer onto the grass. The cleanup delayed play.
In “normal” years, fans line up in the predawn hours to wait for the course gates to open and make a dash for the general admission seats at 16. But there was none of that this year. The limited general admission tickets had been sold out for weeks.
First-time attendee Brandon Blum of Kansas City said he’s watched the Phoenix Open on TV for years and knew the raucous atmosphere wouldn’t be there, but decided to watch from the 16th hole anyway.
“We accepted it. Actually it’s almost an advantage because you can see better. Of course, the vibe is more mellow. We can see the tee box and we can see the pin,” Blum said.
Matthew Nesmith fired a 63 on Thursday to finish tied for the overall lead, which included a near-ace at 16.
“I probably made the quietest almost hole-in-one ever on 16. I got about six claps there and hit it to six inches. But yeah, it was really nice,” Nesmith said. “It was really nice to have fans again. It’s really nice to feel a little nerves. It’s been kind of quiet and it’s just been like we’re all kind of playing together at home or something like that. So it’s really nice to feel a little bit of the nerves and get some claps. I’m sure they’re having a really good time out here. It’s beautiful.”
Schauffele ended the day at minus-5, which put him in the top 10 on the leaderboard before the afternoon wave came through. At one point, though, the four-time PGA Tour winner overheard a fan after he didn’t hit a chip well.
“When there’s a lot of people it almost becomes white noise,” Schauffele said. “Out here I chunked my chip and some guy was like, ‘Dang, he duffed it.’ I’m like, ‘yeah, you’re right, I just duffed the crap out of that chip.’
“You can kind of hear certain small comments more, which when you show up here you know exactly what you’re walking into, but it is weird, though, overall sort of quietness here. It is strange to me.”
Million-dollar shot contest
To recognize small- and medium-sized businesses, many of which were impacted by the pandemic, Waste Management is putting up $1 million for 20 of its business customers in a hole-in-one contest during Saturday’s third round.
The 20 companies from around the U.S, who were chosen randomly as contest finalists, will be assigned a threesome of golfers playing on Saturday. If a hole-in-one is made on the 16th hole the company wins $1 million. If there is no ace, the company whose group has the lowest aggregate score on 16 will win $100,000. Multiple aces will result in the price being split evenly, and there is a closest-to-the-pin tiebreaker if needed for tied aggregate scores.
original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/02/04/phoenix-open-16th-hole-different-vibe-covid-concerns/