Not that there’s anything wrong with any of those things, of course! In fact, it’s why we love this event — there’s nothing else like it in golf.
This tournament has a special place in my heart because it was the first one I covered as credentialed media, and I can hardly believe it, but this week marks my fifth time here. It feels like just the other day I was a completely clueless rookie wandering around the grounds wide-eyed and a nervous wreck (not much has changed, I guess!).
Well, this is what I’ve learned in the last few years: New year + same tournament = similar story lines. Naturally, the notorious par-3 16th is always a main feature. After all, it’s one of the most unique and greatest features on the PGA Tour. It’s the singular hole once a year where boo-ing and heckling aren’t frowned upon (in fact, it’s expected and encouraged) and just about *anything* goes.
The crowd of 20,000+ will reward you with cheers as long as you
bribe bring cool giveaways and embrace them, along with the utter chaos — oh, and you need to hit the green. The club selection ranges from pitching wedge to 8-iron, so that’s easy, right? Well, not really when you factor in the adrenaline rush and the massive pressure from the crowd. My heart rate jumps just thinking about how the players must feel as they walk through the tunnel onto the tee box that’s enclosed by skyboxes and bleachers. You know, like a *real* sports stadium (hence, the moniker).
The fans aren’t the only ones who partake in the antics — the players have some fun, too. Last year, in his Phoenix Open debut, Padraig Harrington punted footballs into the stands. It was actually the first time he’d ever kicked an American football. He grew up as a goal keeper, so he can obviously kick a ball, but he’d never booted an oval ball before that day and he did it with quite some success.
“Interesting, the next day, I again kicked on the Sunday, and I was in the last group, so my intention was, yes, I’m going to kick the ball, but, you know, you know, don’t pull a hamstring, don’t do anything like that,” said Harrington in his pre-tourney press conference on Tuesday. “It’s quite important.
“But the minute I got the ball, I kicked it as hard as I could. I hooved it. I just couldn’t resist. It’s actually quite exciting down there on 16. You know, as much as I was trying to be calm and collected, just tap the balls up there, not with the crowd cheering, I have to give it a big punt. That was it.”
It’s something about the electric atmosphere on the 16th hole that just gets your juices going. How to describe it? Not-so-shockingly, Harrington can’t find a singular word.
Q. In that vein, if you were to describe 16 to somebody who has never played it, with one word, what would you use?
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: I’d like to see somebody describe it in one word (laughter). Okay, you know, this isn’t English class, is it?
I don’t think one word ‑‑I can’t even say it‑‑ encapsulates the whole thing. Couldn’t say it in one word.
For a golfer, it would remind me a little bit like when I played team sports, you know, if you’re in like a football atmosphere. The Ryder Cup comes close to that, as well. It’s a similar sort of thing where you’re genuinely in a situation where you have ‑‑what’s the exact number of people around 16?
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: 20,000. It feels probably more than 20,000 at the time, but that’s like a football atmosphere where people are cheering and shouting. You know, golfers don’t get that. Maybe the Ryder Cup is the one where we actually get that sort of arena type of atmosphere, and for sure you get it on 16.
So it’s so different, so unique, but to describe it in one word wouldn’t do it justice or else I’m just not intelligent enough to do it.
Harrington wasn’t the only player who was a crowd favorite over the weekend last year on the 16th. Who can forget James Hahn rolling in a birdie putt and then celebrating Gangnam style?! What does Hahn have planned this time around? Well, he’s not sure yet, but he has some ideas.
“We haven’t figured it out,” said Hahn at the driving range on Tuesday morning. “DJ, my caddie, wants me to do the River Dance. I have no idea where to start with that. I think if I do the River Dance I have to get some metal spikes.
“Twerking, that’s another one… We should have a vote.”
For Hahn to celebrate, he has to have something to celebrate, though.
“It’s gotta be a putt over 15 feet,” he said. “I’m not going to do a tap-in — if I hit it close, then tap it (in for birdie) and all of a sudden do a break dance or something across the green.”
Now, after his fabulous performance last year, does he feel added pressure to follow up the act?
“No, because it’s all in my hands,” said Hahn. “I think if I have a 20-footer for birdie that’s right edge, it might start left edge. We’ll just get it up there, six inches past the hole, no chance of going in and tap it in for par.”
BUT WHAT IF YOU’RE IN CONTENTION?
“I’m just going to have to take that chance,” he said, laughing. “Yeah, I don’t know what I’m going to do, but it’s exciting…Or I’ll just dance.”
I vote for twerking.
Meanwhile, last year the PGA Tour banned a treasured tradition on the 16th: Caddie races. Word is that after the Henley brothers amazing performance, which made ESPN SportsCenter’s “Not Top 10,” the Tour didn’t like the way it looked, so to speak, or caddies taking away the spotlight from players.
Quick refresher: Kip Henley and Brent Henley are brothers who caddie for Brian Gay and Robert Garrigus, respectively. Gay and Garrigus happened to be paired together in the third round and this is what happened:
It never gets old! It’s disappointing the Tour had to ban the races, especially since it’s a tradition for fans to bet on them. Geez, talk about the fun police!
A year later, Garrigus reflects on his caddie’s tumble and the embargo.
“It’s very unfortunate,” he said. “I thought it was kind of fun. If (Brent) would have broke a club, it would have been even better because we only needed three coming in, anyway…That was probably the best flip in the history of sports. He didn’t break any clubs — they barely touched the ground until after — and he didn’t break any bones.
“I think it’s all what the player takes it as — and I don’t care. I’m all for having more fun and obviously bringing more attention, regardless if it’s to the caddies or away from us. It’s one hole a year and it doesn’t matter. It’s fun for that stage over there — the stadium hole, it’s Super Bowl week. I’m kind of disappointed they took it away.”
How do the Henley brothers feel about the ban?
Well, they mostly just don’t like being told they can’t do something.
“We didn’t want to run,” said Brent. “150 yards with a bag on our shoulders? It’s not easy.
“We don’t want to be policed like that. Nobody does. We didn’t think we were doing anything wrong. We were just having fun.”
Added big brother Kip: “I love running,” he said, sarcastically. “I’m not crazy about getting told I can’t run, but I’m glad they stopped it, really. I hate to be told I can’t run, but I’m kind of glad it’s over, to be honest. Brent and I went out in style.”
It was just one of those times in the moment where everything fell together (literally).
“It all depends on what kind of guy you’re caddying for, where you are in the golf tournament,” said Kip. “I mean, if we’re in second place and he’s two behind, I would walk down there… but things weren’t going great and he had just birdied the last hole, so that gave us a get-out-of-jail free card to take off running. And it takes a lot for Brian to get sore at me and Garrigus never gets mad at Brent. We work for good dudes, who are pretty easygoing compared to most these cats.”
Finally, I went on my traditional behind-the-scenes look at the layout — which included many new features, like beaches and cabanas — with one of my Thunderbird pals. Here’s what we saw…
Oh, by the numbers, one of these Greenskeeper cabanas cost $15,000 for the week. There was also a “super suite” in the Greenskeeper area that had the price tag of $55,000. Within the hour it went on sale, there was six offers and within three hours, a credit card had been processed — yes, for $55,000. No big deal.
A regular suite in the Greenskeeper goes for $45,000, while the skyboxes on the Stadium Hole sell for $48,000 each. They sell out fast, too. There’s even a waiting list to get a box on the 16th!
Lee Westwood hitting his first-ever tee shot on no. 16 at TPC Scottsdale in a practice round on Tuesday afternoon…