The Waste Management Phoenix Open gets underway today in Arizona, and golf fans everywhere will be tuning in to watch the action... especially on the par 3 16th. Stadium seating is the most evident feature of this hole, but players will also be welcomed by songs, chants, praise, a few boo-birds, and an overwhelming odor of booze. A LOT of booze.
Players have sounded off on this atmosphere over the years, both in favor of and against the idea of having fans that close to the action and in such a "party" setting. For the most part the gallery behaves moderately well, however just like any party there are a few bad apples.
For example, Tiger Woods hasn't played at the tournament since 2001 (despite offering one of the more memorable aces on the 16th in 1997) because of two particularly odd situations. In 2001, Tiger was forced to work around a distraction in the form of an orange being rolled on the green while he was putting. In 1999, an over-served and incredibly vulgar gallery member was escorted off the course and into a police car when officials discovered he was carrying a loaded gun. Tiger's fame and stoic demeanor are undoubtedly magnets to this type of gallery behavior, but who can blame him for steering clear of this event (especially now)?
Regardless of the above examples of what could go wrong in this type of party atmosphere in Scottsdale, the benefits seem to outweigh the occasional cause for alarm. And, for the most part, players seem to also enjoy the change of pace the tournament provides.
For example, Phil Mickelson, who skipped last week's Match Play Championship for a family vacation, is a fixture at the Phoenix Open and has won twice, in 1996 and 2005. He attended Arizona State and lived for a time in Scottsdale.
''It's just a special tournament,'' Mickelson said, ''and I think guys that have gone to ASU and lived hear, grown up here, this is really a neat event. It provides an experience that you just don't get week in and week out.''
Kenny Perry has also experienced what it is like to be on the good side of the crowd (often referred to as "Thunderbirds").
''I heard `defending champ' all the way from the first tee to the last tee,'' Perry said after his pro-am round on Wednesday. ''That's always a special feeling. It's even hard to win one tournament, and when you do finally get a win at a place, how everybody supports you is pretty special.''
Golf traditionalists will frown on this tournament, possibly due to the energetic exploits of the crowd and obvious step away from the "golf clap" mentality while watching players. However, during a time when tournaments are grasping for sponsors, the world's number one player in sex rehab, and course designs becoming longer in an effort to increase difficulty, perhaps all the PGA really needs is an extra shot of fan involvement.