As much as Arizona’s golf fans enjoy the annual party at the par-3 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale, it’s easy to forget the players themselves enjoy the more boisterous experience at the WM Phoenix Open, too.
“I think sometimes we can get a little bit too serious with ourselves, and so it’s fun coming out here,” two-time defending champion Scottie Scheffler said. “This morning you come to warm up on the driving range and the music is so loud I can barely even hear myself think out on the driving range. I’m like, ‘What is this place?’ It’s crazy. It’s a lot different than the stuff we play throughout the year, but it’s a lot of fun.”
The WM Phoenix Open, teeing off Thursday in Scottsdale, Ariz., is back to a standard tour event after serving as a “designated” event with a smaller field and larger purse in 2023. That gives players ranging from Scheffler, the World No. 1, to PGA Tour rookies like Jake Knapp the chance to experience “the stadium hole.”
No. 16 is entirely enclosed with stadium seating and fans are encouraged to cheer and jeer as loudly as they want, atypical for the stereotypically buttoned-up sport. Beer cups often are thrown, and players get in on the act when they perform well, like when Joel Dahmen and Harry Higgs took their shirts off after completing the hole in 2022’s final round.
Having experienced the 16th hole several times now, Max Homa dubbed the atmosphere “like a calming chaos.”
“I think if you embrace that you’re going to get booed — I’ve gotten booed for missing a 20-foot putt,” Homa said. “I think it’s funny and it’s fun. You just have to, I think, have the right attitude.”
Knapp is excited to play TPC Scottsdale after the California native moved in basically “across the street” from the course.
“I know that there’s some guys that say that this is the absolute best event and they’ll never miss it the rest of their careers, so I’m excited to see what it’s all about,” Knapp said. “… I’m excited. Good shot, bad shot, something good happens, whatever, I’m open for it.”
Knapp is in sixth place in the current Aon Swing 5 standings that will determine five qualifiers for next week’s signature event, the Genesis Invitational outside Los Angeles. He tied for third his last time out at the Farmers Insurance Open.
France’s Matthieu Pavon leads the Aon Swing 5 — and, in fact, tops the season-long FedEx Cup points standings — having followed his first tour win at the Farmers with a third-place finish at last week’s rain-shortened AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Wyndham Clark received the victory after shooting 60 on Saturday to grab the 54-hole lead.
Still, the favorite this week is Scheffler, who’s aiming to become the first player to win the same tournament three consecutive years on tour since Steve Stricker owned the John Deere Classic from 2009-11.
“It’s good to be back. I have some good memories here,” Scheffler said. “My first (PGA Tour) win was here in â22, and then to be able to win again last year was a lot of fun. Good to be back. Weather is a bit different than we’re used to here in Phoenix, but it looks like the forecast is shaping up a little bit better for the weekend, and should be another fun week.”