Hello from the Phoenix Open! It’s a little chillier than we’d like as it was only in the high 50s today. Okay, okay, I can feel the dirty looks from everyone who is buried in the snow and cold. It was indeed a beautiful day at TPC Scottsdale — as long as you were in the sun.
and drunks were out in full force at the famed — or notorious — par-3 16th Stadium hole. It was especially crazy for a Wednesday, but per usual, the atmosphere was absolutely electrifying. Before I launch into some odds and ends from the day, let’s start with the juiciest (or most obnoxious, depending on how you see it) of them all…
BUBBA WATSON BEING BUBBA WATSON
Bubba, who lived in the Phoenix area up until a few years ago when he moved to Orlando, graced the media for a few minutes after playing in the pro-am, and it was pointed out to him that he’s had great success at the Phoenix Open. He’s finished runner-up here the past two years. He placed T5 in 2012 and T8 in 2007. So, that’s four top-10s in nine starts. Not too shabby. He’s eighth on the all-time money leaders from this tournament with $1,633,255.00. The course also favors long-hitters.
Naturally, you’d think he’d like the golf course, right? Well, yeah. Apparently, he’s not a fan, though.
“I don’t like (this golf course),” said Watson. “I’m not going to PC it. I don’t like it at all.”
Why the heck are you here then? You’re an independent contractor who can basically decide your own schedule, with a few exceptions. Well, it’s because the people/companies who play him millions of dollars happen to be based in the Phoenix area.
“Ping is here in Phoenix, Arizona,” said Watson. “Oakley is a big sponsor here. Stance Socks is a big one for 16 this year with the 16th-hole socks. So obviously I’m here because of my sponsors.”
His sponsors that pay him large sums of money love this tournament (and I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to hear his comments), so Bubba will play the company man, suck it up for a week and endure the awful burden of playing for more millions of bucks on a course he doesn’t like. I’m sure that’s a problem we’d all like to have!
Bubba elaborated on why exactly he doesn’t like TPC Scottsdale. He’s not a fan of the changes to the course that were made ahead of last year’s tournament.
“I didn’t see any reason to change it,” he said. “You know, again, they didn’t ask me. It’s just my own opinion. I didn’t see any reason to change it.
“But then you have 14, I think 490 uphill. Big hitters. It gets tight down there. No. 8 you’ve got the slope from right to left right in the bunkers, bunkers start at roughly 280, go to about 320. I don’t see that you need to tighten it up.
“So just to me it just seems like all they did is just tightened it up. Scores didn’t change. It just makes it goofier and tougher, which is not fun for us. We came here for a reason. We came here because we want to play golf and shoot good scores.
“500,000 people show up here. I didn’t see there is a reason to change something that’s not broke.”
So, Bubba doesn’t like it because there are a few holes where some drastic changes were made that don’t suit his game, so it’s automatically the worst course in the world!
Bubba does like that the course has imparted him with solid results.
“They let me finish top 5 a couple of times, so it’s pretty great,” said Bubba when asked if there was anything about the course he did like. “I’m hoping the other guys struggle a little bit.
“But no, I mean, realistically, the golf course is built for me, built for big hitters. Look at the last few years, big hitters have won. They have made more putts than me. I feel like I have a shot if I can keep my head on straight. Obviously my record shows around here. I feel good. I’m hitting the ball really good.
“J.B. Holmes who is walking up has played here quite nicely over the last few years. I want to compete with him. Hey, J.B. J.B. got lucky twice.
“If you think about it, I’m not looking at my own golf game. I’m looking at everybody’s. I don’t know about you guys but Mark Wilson is not a power hitter and he won here. You know, it was a different breed. Look at the last few years, the big hitters are always around the top. I’m hoping again this week as well because that means my name will be around the top somewhere.”
Yeah, probably. Bubba was certainly in a mood that can only be described as “Bubba” on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, on the 16th, Bubba stepped up to the plate and waved his arms in the air to get the crowd to cheer louder. He missed the green short and it rolled back into the bunker. He turned to his caddie Ted Scott and “jokingly” gestured at him, like he was blaming him for the wrong club selection. He was kidding, though, of course. Because Bubba never ever blames Teddy for anything! Ever.
I know I have a bad habit of this, but these columns take me a while to write and I need a change of scenery from the freezing media center, so I’ll be back in a jiffy. Stay tuned for more odds and ends from Wednesday!
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Usually I save the best for last, but I can’t risk you guys getting bored and not reading the whole thing and missing this picture altogether. I spotted this woman on 16 and I couldn’t resist being a creep and taking a picture. Well, actually, what’s funny is how I came to notice her.
Phil Mickelson’s caddie Bones Mackay walked up a bit from the tee and looked at something/someone strangely and made an amused face. I wasn’t sure what it was at first, but then quickly figured it out. So, thanks, Bones, for bringing this to my attention!
I’ve been on SnapChat for a while, but I haven’t really jumped on the bandwagon fully yet. I just wasn’t ready. But today, I got an awesome tutorial from PUMA Golf’s social media maven Nicole and I think I have finally seen the light. So, I’ll be SNAPPING a lot. Check it out and follow me, please! — username: stephwei
BALLS IN THE AIR
So, who’s playing this week? How’s the field? It’s alright — about the same as always. Pretty strong.
*Well, first of all, Kevin Kisner is playing. He’s first in the FedEx Cup standings!!!!! OMG!
*Defending champ Brooks Koepka, who came back from a three-shot deficit to beat Bubba Watson, Hideki Matsuyama and Ryan Palmer by a stroke.
*Aging Phil Mickelson.
*Brandt Snedeker who won last week’s weather-marred Farmers Insurance Open.
*Eight of this season’s 11 winners: Snedeker, Jason Dufner, Fabian Gomez, Emiliano Grillo, Smylie Kaufman, Kevin Kisner, Peter Malnati, Justin Thomas.
*Rickie Fowler who won two weeks ago in Abu Dhabi and reached a career-high no. 4 in the world rankings.
*Bubba Watson who doesn’t like the course.
And who’s going to play well? Long-hitters. It’s a bomber’s paradise (like which course isn’t, right?). Well, guys who hit the long ball generally do well here, especially after the renovations. Just look at the top finishers in 2015: Koepka, Bubba, Hideki, Ryan Palmer, Martin Laird, Graham DeLaet…and don’t sleep on Daniel Berger. Tony Finau wouldn’t be a bad dark horse, either. Harris English, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones wouldn’t be bad outside picks. Sneds is playing so well right now that you can’t count him out of being in the hunt. Same with Rickie.
*Koepka finished last year’s tournament ranked fourth in the field in strokes gained: tee to green. He was dominant on the par-4s that week and led the field for par 4 scoring average and total score to par. He beat the field by nearly 13 total shots on the par 4s en route to victory.
*TPC Scottsdale ranked 10th in the 2014-15 season in courses with the longest driving distances (on all drives). The average player in the field averaged 285.4 yards off the tee. Bubba Watson led the field for the second straight season at this event, with an average of 310.2 yards, averaging nearly 25 yards longer than the field. The other four were J.B. Holmes, Tony Finau, Harris English and Koepka.
*TPC Scottsdale has the highest percentage of drives over 300 yards on Tour since 2009.
Phil Mickelson turns 46 in June. It’s starting to show. He hasn’t won since 2013 when he captured the Open Championship. Everyone keeps pointing out this fact and people have started to wonder if he’s “done.”
This will be Mickelson’s 27th start at the Phoenix Open.
“It’s gone by quick,” said Phil, smiling. “It’s hard to believe that was two decades ago. It’s hard to believe it’s been that many years. I don’t feel that old, but when I look back on the old pictures, it looks like I aged a little bit.
“You know, those moments have been very special, from ’96 to 2013. That tournament win was very special to me, too. I just love playing here. I just really enjoy it here.”
But you’re almost 46. You missed the cut here last year. You haven’t won in almost 3 years. You must get sick of hearing about your age, right?
“It doesn’t bother me,” he said. “It’s just part of that. I mean, it’s flattering to me that I have been able to be out here so long and play successfully, and I kind of have a new energy about this year. I feel like my game is starting to come back to a level of play that I haven’t had in a while and I’m excited. I’m rejuvenated and looking forward to having a great year.”
However, he’s not per se just focused on trying to get that elusive U.S. Open victory. I think he’d just be happy with any old win at this point. He wants to overcome the case of the standard golfer who begins to fade away in his mid-40s — this is the time in an “average” player’s career where he starts counting down the years and days until he’s qualified to play the Champions Tour (50).
“Well, rather than putting specifics on it — obviously the U.S. Open is a specific goal, but besides that specific goal, I just want to play the way I know I can play and get back to that level,” he said.
“I’m starting to see glimpses of it, and I’m feeling glimpses of it, and now I just want to put it together.”
He’s definitely annoyed that it hasn’t happened yet, though.
“What frustrates me is not playing at the level I know I can play at, and I have worked hard this offseason to try and address that,” he said. “I’m excited about the direction I have come and how far I have come the last few months, and I’m really looking forward to playing a lot.
“I know that I’m going to have sporadic moments early on because it’s been a little while since I have played at the highest level, and that’s why I’m playing six out of seven weeks to give myself time to work on it and integrate it in competition.”
Phil’s probably got at least one regular PGA Tour win in him, right? He’ll show up on the Masters leaderboard a couple of times in the next few years, too.
THE BIG FOUR?
Since his big overseas victory in Abu Dhabi in a field that included world nos. 1 and 3 Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, respectively, Rickie Fowler ascended to no. 4 in the world rankings. Over the past few months, Spieth, McIlroy and Jason Day, who is no. 2, have been hailed as the “Big Three.” Now that Fowler, a very popular, marketable young player, has joined them in the top 5 in the world rankings, everyone has been asking if he is part of that conversation as the “Big Four.” The general feeling has been that the other three players have something he doesn’t: at least one major.
Fowler has to be sick of answering questions about not winning one yet. It’s like, “Hey, you underachiever! Hurry up, won’t you!” But don’t kill the messenger! We have to ask these annoying questions. (Some players might have more intriguing answers than others, though.)
“A major is my main goal right now going forward,” said Fowler. “I mean, you can keep going down the list and say there is a big 5, big 10. There is a lot of guys playing well. I know with what Rory, Jordan, and Jason have done, they have definitely distanced themselves.
“You can see it in the world ranking, in the points there. I am the fourth-ranked player, fourth in line, big 4, but I’ve got a little catching up to do on the world ranking side of things.”
Rickie, do you believe you can win a major?
“I feel very good off the wins I have had this past year, and yeah, excited about the majors this year and Augusta just around the corner,” he said.
In other words: I hate that question.
THE ROAD LESS TAKEN
You could say there’s no easy road to qualifying for the PGA Tour, but Brooks Koepka took a unique, interesting route — one that I find quite respectable and wonder why more young pros don’t go on a global adventure (well, I actually know the answer to that question). After turning pro in 2012, Koepka qualified for the Challenge Tour, the European Tour’s version of the Web.com Tour. He won four events in less than a year, including his very first start.
Koepka then graduated to the European Tour after his last Challenge Tour victory and secured status for the rest of 2013 and 2014. In 2014 he went the qualifier/sponsors exemption route to try and earn Special Temporary Membership on the PGA Tour. He succeeded and ultimately earned enough FedExCup points to earn his Tour card in the States for the 2014-15 season.
But that year Koepka spent playing on the Challenge Tour and traveling all over the world turned out to be character building. He went outside his comfort zone. Some Tour players have hardly traveled outside the country and have a tough time just going over to play the Open Championship. That’s no joke, either.
Koepka gave up his European Tour membership last fall, deciding to focus his efforts in America ($$$$$), but his experiences make him more appreciative of the luxuries and constant coddling that happens on the PGA Tour.
“Well, it’s helped,” said Koepka. “Everything is easier over here, obviously. You know where to eat, you know where to go. If you’re bored, you know there might be a game you can catch. TV is in English. Stuff like that. It’s a lot easier.
“Over there, it was fun. It helped me grow up a lot. I think I grew up a lot in those two years. It is kind of lonely, I’m not gonna lie. You have to be by yourself a lot.
It’s just mentally tiring. I experienced it once I think on the Challenge Tour. Going for my third win, I was ready to just come back home. I was tired of it. It’s just a mental grind over there. I have a lot of respect for the guys who do that. Peter (Uihlein) now, what he’s doing, I have a lot of respect for him still being over there. It’s hard. You’re on a plane for 10 hours going over there and then coming back, and then the next week you might have what, five, six days off and you’re doing it again.”
Ain’t that the truth. The part where he talks about the loneliness really strikes a chord with me. I mean, it’s lonely on the PGA Tour, so being in foreign countries all the time must become really grueling once the novelty ends. So, RESPECT for going outside his comfort zone. Besides, you’re supposed to do stuff like that when you’re in your early 20s, right? There’s no better time.
The weather-delayed Farmers Insurance Open left around 50 players who hadn’t finished their rounds on Sunday, which led to a Monday finish. Snedeker entered the final round trailing by six shots, but had the good fortune of playing and completing all 18 holes in the crappy weather Sunday because it just got crappier on Monday. Nearly 24 hours after he hit his last shot, he was declared the champion. He was thrilled, obviously, but the waiting game was not so fun.
“Awful,” he said when asked what Sunday night was like for him. “It was absolutely awful. It was worse — I have had the lead on Sunday going into the Masters and I slept better than I did that night. I don’t know why. It was completely out of my control. Literally the elements were everything. If I had elements on Monday, I had a chance to win. If I didn’t, I didn’t have a chance to win.
“It was just a completely helpless feeling. I know how my family feels all the time when they watch me now. I know how everyone’s family feels now when they watch it now and how brutal it is to watch and have no control.
“It was a long 24 hours, you know. It was — when I got done at 6:00 on, or whatever time it was, wasn’t even 6:00, 3:30 on Sunday, I mean, it was just a completely helpless feeling. A good feeling, you had all this positive stuff happening, trying not to think about winning because you’re trying to get ready, you know, there might be a playoff, you might not win, don’t get your hopes up. But at the same time you’re kind of like a kid on Christmas, you can’t wait, like hopefully it’s going to happen.
“That’s why Monday was so tough. I was just waiting around for am I going to lose, am I going to win, am I going to be in a playoff? What’s going to happen? I just didn’t know. Just a crazy feeling. Never had anything like that. I’ve had to sit and wait for a while but nothing like that.”
MORE PHOTOS FROM TODAY
I walked most of the back nine with Rickie Fowler’s pro-am group because my favorite PR ladies from Cobra-PUMA were around. (I get really excited when there are girls to hang out with for a change.) Fowler was paired with country superstar Dierks Bentley. Takeaway: Couldn’t be a nicer, more friendly guy, but he’s a terrible golfer.
Here’s Fowler hanging with his new Cobra-PUMA “IGNITE” bag, which is to promo the brand’s new shoe line (they’re great, by the way).
Here’s Phil on 16…
Not the best bunker shot Billy Horschel has ever hit… he looked disgusted with himself and I didn’t blame him.
Good night and good luck. See you tomorrow.