SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- A trip to the desert in February is always nice.
Scottsdale offers blue skies, lots of sun and great golf. TPC Scottsdale provides a dramatic finish to the Waste Management Phoenix Open and the Thunderbirds have raised millions of dollars for charity.
|The Par-3 16th|
That's all very nice but let's get real. This week is always about the 16th hole.
It's an otherwise nondescript 162-yard par-3 -- except for the fact it's completely enclosed with grandstands seating 30,000 people who yell and cheer and boo depending on the quality of the shot.
It is absolutely intimidating. There is a fear factor for the players. The fear of embarrassment.
And don't think all the clever comments are ad-libbed. The gallery is carefully orchestrated. Cheat sheets are handed out so fans can get very personal. You hear the names of player's pets yelled out, their high school mascot is invoked.
Wikipedia hits must dramatically increase this week as the 16th-hole fans do their homework.
Players actually get their first taste of the 16th on the 10th hole. The green sits some 25 yards away and the overflow of gallery and noise can be disturbing.
At the 16th hole, players expect loud outbursts and know they are coming. Those same outbursts can catch some players off guard while playing the 10th.
Starting with the 11th hole, the course moves away from the 16th. The gallery and the noise diminish until you begin moving back toward the east beginning on the 14th hole. Every step brings you closer to the Coliseum. The noise increases as you walk. It's easy for your mind to wander and begin anticipating the 16th and what lies ahead.
Once players exit the 15th green they cross a bridge and enter a tunnel underneath the grandstand that is both dark and claustrophobic. Just as your eyes get used to the low light you emerge on the other side and you have to squint into the daylight. The first thing you notice is how green everything looks, how crowded the corporate chalets are and how loud the gallery is.
I once walked next to Fred Couples under the grandstand and as he emerged on the other side the fans starting screaming, "Freddy, Freddy, Freddy!!!"
I asked Couples, "Do you think they are screaming for you or me?"
It was so loud I'm not sure he heard the question but Couples shot me a look which implied a severe lack of judgment on my part.
That might be the theme of the 16th. Try to avoid bad judgment. It applies to the gallery, players and media.
DESERT MIRAGE: Desert golf can play tricks on the eyes. The fairways at TPC Scottsdale are overseeded with rye grass, which provides a bright ribbon of green that's offset by the pale yellow tinge of dormant bermuda rough. At first, the contrast makes the fairways look narrow when they are actually generous. One caddy walked 25 paces from rough to rough telling his player, "You have more room out here than it looks."
THUNDERBIRD PRIDE: The Thunderbirds have the nicest uniforms of any organization on the PGA TOUR. Members wear navy blue velour shirts with a turquoise necklace and silver concho belts. Very cool. I have thought of joining The Thunderbirds just for the uniforms. Plus the head of the organization is formally addressed as "The Big Chief." How nice would it be to have "The Big Chief" as your title on business cards, or for your wife to refer to you in that manner?
AND MY PICK IS ... I like Phil Mickelson this week because he played so poorly in San Diego. The logic here? It's called "regression to the mean." If a career .300 hitter bats .400 in April, he'll likely hit .200 in May. The reverse is also true, so when Phil plays bad one week, he plays great the next. He went to school at Arizona State, his brother is the golf coach there and Phil used to live here. Mickelson should be ripe for a win.
Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio and is inside the ropes this week at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here.