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Golfers talk feeding off the WMPO atmosphere, tall tales from No. 16

PGA pro Troy Merritt hits a tee shot on No. 16 during Round 1 of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Waste Management Phoenix Open is an entirely different beast for PGA pros.

From the makeshift city — highlighted by the infamous 16th hole — that sits throughout TPC Scottsdale to the fans that pile in each day to fill it, the WMPO isn’t your typical PGA event.

The atmosphere isn’t for the faint of heart. This is the farthest thing from the Master’s, where getting loud is encouraged, not a reason to be escorted off the grounds. You’ll hear about your bad shot before your caddie can clean a club.

While some avoid the rowdiness the WMPO brings, others use the biggest party on grass to their advantage.

“It’s really fun,” Wyndham Clark said after Friday’s round. “We joke about it, the front nine is electric, there’s still great fans and a great feel, but when you start getting to No. 15, I mean, you just kind of get amped up.

“And you can see it in our group’s play, we all started making birdies at the end and you just feed off that energy.”

From No. 16 through the 18th, the heart of the party, the pairing of Clark, Sam Ryder and Mark Hubbard combined for six birdies on Friday.

Of the three in the group, Clark has harnessed the energy from the stands the best, currently sitting in second place at 12-under. He shot 2-under Friday.

Most golfers will say they use the atmosphere to their advantage.

But what of the golfers that don’t?

For J.B. Holmes, the outside influences have little effect to his game.

“I haven’t seen a whole lot [of craziness out on the golf course]. I pretty much have been focusing on golf so I haven’t been looking around all that much,” Holmes said after the round. “We try not to [pay attention], only when/if they get out of hand [do I notice them]. If they start being rude or anything like that, it’s just like anything else, 99% of the people out here are doing a good job. There’s always a couple idiots. Those guys can stand out or tell at the wrong time or whatever, but in general, everyone’s pretty good.”

The method has paid off so far for the two-time WMPO champion as he currently leads the field at 13-under. Holmes put on a show Friday, firing off a 6-under 65 that was highlighted by an impressive eagle on No. 17.

“When I hit [the drive] I thought it had a pretty good chance, I was just worried about it maybe going too far left,” Holmes said of his towering 330-yard tee shot. “When I hit it I thought I hit it about right and hopefully it would hit into that bank or bounce just up and it did.”

You either embrace the madness or shut it out. There’s no in-between.

Tales from the 16th hole, WMPO

Every year, the WMPO continues to reach new lengths, in sheer size, but also in attire and all-out crazy.

Fans from all over the country file into No. 16, some wearing the usual golf attire or the jersey of a local team, others taking things to another level.

With that in mind, I asked a number of players to describe the most bizarre scene they’ve experienced on the par-3.

The answers may surprise you. but then again, maybe not.

BUBBA WATSON

“There’s kids present, you know. We can’t — we have seen some wild stuff. We have seen some wild stuff. That’s a nice way of saying it.”

WYNDHAM CLARK

Today there was a guy — we just came through No. 16, we were on No. 17, and a guy was wearing a wedding dress. So there were two dudes, one wearing a wedding dress and one in  a tuxedo and they were having some fun.”

RICKIE FOWLER

“No. 16 was mellow today because we were going through there [around 9:30 a.m.]. This afternoon it’s obviously a different scene, especially tomorrow. Some guys this afternoon, I’m sure they will have stories for you.”

BILLY HORSCHEL

“It’s probably something I shouldn’t say, I’m not going to say. We all have stories, I don’t have any PG stories that I can come up with right now. Let’s just say you see some unique things or you hear about unique things that happen throughout the week that you sorta scratch your head about.”

More on the 16th crowd from Horschel:

“I think they were great. You have your few idiots out there that want to say certain things, but everyone was having fun. I love making birdie at No. 16 and getting the crowd going. It’s a lot of support out there. We’ll see what happens this weekend. They always can change at the way the wind blows sometimes, but I think I like to play up to the crowd a little bit. I’ll chatter back to them one in awhile if they say something, but it’s a fun event. I love coming to it and will be coming for a long time.”

Still wondering what transpires at TPC Scottsdale?

Look no further:

MULLIGANS

– Scott Piercy knocked in a hole-in-one on No. 7 on Friday. He also had an eagle on No. 13.

“I guess whenever you make a hole-in-one in Phoenix it’s pretty awesome. I just did it on the wrong side where everybody didn’t see it. I drove it really well today, irons were good, the putter’s starting to roll. I think it’s the first time in probably a couple years, maybe even more, that I had two eagles [in the same round]. I made a bomb on No. 13 from probably 60 feet and then obviously making the hole-in-one on No. 7, that’s a total bonus.”

– Tony Finau and Justin Thomas continued their tributes to Kobe Bryant on Friday, with both wearing a Lakers and Lower Merion jersey on No. 16, respectively.

Thomas dropped in a par, while Finau added a little Mamba Mentality to his birdie putt.

“I just said ‘Kobe’ as it went in and did a little jump shot.”

– Arizona State alum Jon Rahm continued to pay his respects to Pat Tillman with custom Adidas golf shoes with his likeness on them. He’s currently tied for 12th at seven-under.