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Dan Bickley

16th hole at Phoenix Open represents the best of Arizona

(Photo by Dan Bickley)

There are over 800 holes on the PGA Tour. Some are more scenic. Some are more iconic. None compare to the 16th hole at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

You don’t measure this one by yardage. Few are shorter than the 123-yard wedge required on Saturday, with little wind and no water in play.

You measure this one between the ears. And in that arena, no hole on the PGA Tour plays longer.

Forget what it does to professional golfers, who hear and think about this hole long before they arrive at this hole. Or how one of them endured some elite-level trolling in 2019. We’ll get to them in a minute.

This hole represents the best of Arizona. It captures our beer-chugging party spirit. It our harnesses our rebellious energy. It houses 22,000 fans and three levels of lucrative skyboxes, and expansion is still on the table. It is easily the most profitable golf hole on the planet.

There were times when this hole lived on the edge, thrown off the rails with one too many beers and one too many crude insults hurled at professional golfers. Not anymore.

The stadium that surrounds this hole is a tribute to innovation, survival, the power of people watching and proof that the PGA Tour needed a little Caddyshack to shake things up. They needed a golf tournament that spoke to the masses and blew the starch out of a country club sport.

Welcome to Phoenix.

There are many countercultural elements that make the Waste Management Phoenix Open. The tournament hits a crescendo on Saturday, reaching peak volume, attendance and insobriety. The final round is anticlimactic, the quietest day of the week.

This wouldn’t work anywhere else. The PGA Tour couldn’t handle another stop like this.

The tournament has become a local treasure. Fans were in queue at 3:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, and the first one in line was braced in a sprinter’s stance. The tournament is also a global phenomenon, a bucket list item for NBA star Steph Curry, actor Mark Wahlberg and a group of tourists who flew 8,261 miles from Tasmania to Phoenix last year just to attend the WMPO.

Legend has it, those Tasmanians got off the plane and ran into a Thunderbird in a purple tunic, who happened to be making an emergency airport run. He was also carrying one of those “Quiet” signs they deploy with little success all over the golf course, especially at No. 16.

The tourists were awestruck, touching the man’s purple tunic as if he were a rock star.

Even with a youthful and starless field, the 2019 WMPO has raised the bar yet again. The tournament announced that business is so brisk they will no longer announce attendance figures, thereby mocking every professional franchise in the Valley.

This tournament attracts more spectators for the Wednesday Pro-Am than most tournaments draw for the final round, and more than some NFL teams drawn on any given Sunday.

This year also raised the ante for high-end heckling. Dave Leonard, who leads a large group of diehard fans lining the left side of the tee box, takes great pride in discovering little-known facts about PGA Tour stars. He outdid himself in 2019.

He had security deliver a No. 88 Broncos jersey to professional golfer Brice Garnett just as he emerged from the tunnel.

Garnett is Denver fan. He also shot an 88 at Quail Hollow last season, an embarrassingly high score for a professional golfer. The jersey was signed by snarky golf fans with snarky comments, like:

“Tiger shot 88 when he was 3.”

And …

Breakin’ 90!”

Garnett expressed his profound appreciation on Twitter. For a golf crowd that can be drunk, dangerous and downright stupid. And for a tournament that has shown the world what it’s like to have real fun on a golf course.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

Bickley & Marotta

Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier