2017 Waste Management Phoenix Open Returns to Scottsdale

By Jonathan Crist

FEBRUARY 2, 2017 MARKS THE 82ND PLAYING OF THE WASTE MANAGEMENT PHOENIX OPEN. More than 130 of the world’s greatest golfers will find their way to sunny Scottsdale in hopes of winning the lion’s share of the $6.7 million purse, the Waterford Crystal Thunderbird and the loving affection of more than 600,000 enthusiastic fans. It’s the fans that make the golf tournament. There are no professional golfers without the ad dollars and retail sales behind the green grass, tee boxes and Sunday pin placements. There aren’t any journalists covering your weekend foursome. And without the rowdy, rambunctious, roaring crowds, The Thunderbirds, hosts of the tournament, can’t donate hundreds of millions of dollars to local charities.

TPC Scottsdale, the venue of the Phoenix Open for the last 30 years, doesn’t draw the largest crowds in sports because it’s a simple golf tournament. It brings people together because it’s the best golf tournament; a real golf tournament — one of the people, by the people, and for the people. The last eight decades brought monumental changes in the game of golf, from new equipment forged from space-age polymers, designed to blast the ball into oblivion, to tech-savvy apparel deliberately intended to chart and track body movement as well as keep players at optimal core temperatures.

Golf viewership is at an all-time high, due in part to the immeasurable influence of the internet which can now beam an approach shot into your glasses if you have enough bandwidth. Even Tiger Woods is back — the needle-moving, major-winning, we-don’tneed-no-stinkin’-badges-attitude-having tour de force who brought an entire generation of now 20-somethings into the game. Golf has changed for the better, and it’s safe to say the millions of WM Phoenix Open fans had something to do with it. Let’s take a look back at some great WM Phoenix Open moments, which turned a humble golf tournament for charity into the free-wielding phenomenon now titled The People’s Open. Just last year, Hideki Matsuyama held off two-time WM Phoenix Open runner up and perennial favorite, Rickie Fowler, in what became an instant golf classic.

The two young guns jostled back and forth for the lead on the back nine of Sunday’s final round before approaching the tee box on the short par-4 17th. Fowler, who had been lights out all day with his bright orange driver, hit a booming tee shot over the green and into the water some 360 yards away. The culprit? It was a freakish and most-unlucky bounce off the downslope which no one expected, especially Fowler, who solemnly tapped in for bogey, dropping two shots and the lead. A birdie from each player on 18 forced what would become the longest sudden-death playoff in TPC Scottsdale history.

They played the finishing hole twice before heading to no. 10 where Matsuyama matched Fowler’s par save, continuing overtime back to where the drama began — the par-4 17th. Hitting 3-wood this time, Fowler again found the water, albeit to the left instead of over the green, opened the door for Matsuyama’s second PGA TOUR title. The spectacle was an emotional reminder of why the WM Phoenix Open is so special. Instead of running to their cars to watch the biggest football game of the year, the fans — nearly 70,000 of them and more than 600,000 for the week —stuck it out to watch two titans of the tee box duke it out for the title. It was just one of many moments where fans of the People’s Open were welcome to witness golf history.

After posting a first-round 65, and a then TPC Scottsdale record 11-under par 60 during the second round of the 2001 Phoenix Open, Calcavecchia toned down his feverish pace to shoot a comparatively modest 11-under in the remaining two rounds. The score set an all-time, PGA TOUR tournament scoring record of 256, one shot better than Mike Souchak’s 257 at the 1955 Texas Open. Before tapping in for par on 18 during a damp and muddy final round, Calcavecchia snuck a peak at the scoreboard and saw a red 28 – a sight normally reserved for the dreams of high handicappers and Xbox gamers in their parent’s basement. Calcavecchia called it the best performance of his career after throwing his ball into the stands with effortless and child-like smile on his face. It would be 12 years until any golfer played like that in Scottsdale. Enters Phil Mickelson. Mickelson lipped out for 59 on Thursday’s first round of the 2013 Phoenix Open for a record-tying start. He had his line for his birdie putt on 18, hit a confident stroke and it was tracking.

Phil gave greatness the stare-down and began walking in his record-setting putt, only to see it lip out in cartoonish fashion. The crowd gasped in betrayal. His beloved caddie, Bones, fell to the ground on his hands and knees as if he was pleading to the Golf Gods for forgiveness. The ball that had been so kind to him all day touched every part of the cup but the bottom. It was cruel, and as the Golf Channel commentators so eloquently put it “as painful a 60 as you’re ever going to see.” While that magical moment seemed to leave a bittersweet taste in Mickelson’s mouth, he quickly cleansed his palate and went on to dominate the impressive 2013 field littered with greatness of its own.

Since the tournament moved to TPC Scottsdale in 1987, more than 13 million people have had the opportunity to watch some of golf’s greatest moments. They come from all corners of the planet; from all cultures, creeds and classes. Each fan can get something out of the tournament, from those who want to have a few drinks and party, to those who follow their favorite players groaning and cheering along with them after each shot. There’s room for children just learning the game or seeing a well-struck golf shot for the first time. There’s space for black, white and all colors in between. At the People’s Open, everyone is simply a fan.