Fans are the focus at Phoenix's 16th hole

By Jason SobelFebruary 2, 2014, 1:32 am

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Ryan Palmer knocked his tee shot to within 13 feet of the cup on the infamous 16th hole here at TPC Scottsdale on Saturday, then made a beeline for the rowdy fans sitting just left of the entrance.

Like so many other players, he’d decided to stay in their good graces by tossing gifts into the stands. Like no other players, he opted for something each of them could use.

Cold, hard cash.

“I don’t know why, I just thought it would be pretty cool to tell them to go have a beer on me,” said Palmer, who threw $100 to the crazed fans. “Everyone was just screaming and grabbing. With the wind, it kept blowing back at me, so I couldn’t get it all the way up there. I handed some to a few people. It’s one of those deals where you try to think of something clever.”

An hour later, fan Stuart Parnell was still raving about the gesture. “I got 40 bucks!” he crowed.

Video: Lefty goes righty for football tosses

If the 16th hole is a study in the sociology of spectators, the idea can similarly be applied to competitors. In a game where personalities aren’t often displayed inside the ropes, it’s one time when they’re actually encouraged.

When Scott Langley safely found the green during the third round, he pumped his fist and pointed toward the boisterous fans. When J.B. Holmes nestled one to a similar distance in the same group, he barely displayed any expression.

Phil Mickelson stepped to the tee with his usual grin and trademark thumbs-up toward the gallery. When he missed the green left, the fan favorite motioned to the masses that he was well deserving of being booed.

It didn’t last, though. Within seconds, he was firing footballs into the stands – righty – with some pretty tight spirals.

“I think it's the last time I'm going to do that, because mentally I was thinking about throwing it a couple holes prior,” he admitted. “It took me out of my element. I hit the worst shot imaginable on that 16th hole.”

Not everyone was thrown off. Roberto Castro has long been serenaded with chants of “FIDEL!” at the 16th. So this time, he jogged over to the fans and produced a box labeled “Fidel’s Finest” then tossed cigars into the crowd.

Some of ’em even got a gift in return. When Ryan Moore followed a par by tossing his golf ball to a fan in a Seahawks jersey, the favor was returned as a few Seahawks pins rained down on him from above.

Not every gift was a tangible item, though.

In light of the PGA Tour’s decree that caddie races are banished this year, a trio of players bent the rules without breaking ‘em. Kevin Na, John Merrick and Brendan Steele picked up their own bags and raced with them.

“It was Kevin Na’s idea and we just wanted it to be funny,” Steele later said. “But once we got close to the green, we couldn’t help going into a sprint.”

In addition to posting a tidy little 9-under 62, he also won the race in a near-dead heat.

Cade Fredrickson didn’t need a photo finish. The 12-year-old was serving as a standard-bearer and raced his father, Rob, a member of the Thunderbirds, to the 16th green. The son dusted his dad so easily that he jogged the final 10 yards backwards.

He walked off with a big smile on his face, but emotions were often mixed on this day. Seven holes earlier, Hunter Mahan was told by a fan that if he made a putt he’d get half of the outside-the-ropes wager. When he holed it, he gave the Johnny Manziel money motion, then mirrored it after a birdie on 16. Meanwhile, Y.E. Yang suffered embarrassment in front of the game’s biggest gallery, hitting a putt into a bunker en route to posting triple bogey.

The 15,000 spectators on the hole come with varying degrees of golf pedigrees, but plenty of ’em know their stuff. Upon seeing caddies walk off yardage or discuss club selection, Mike Leonard would yell, “Give him the gap wedge! It’s 128 yards!”

Never mind that the hole was playing 131. It sounded good.

Not every yell was helpful, though. When Vijay Singh, who is involved with a messy lawsuit against the PGA Tour over alleged use of deer-antler spray, stepped into the arena, they chanted, “A-ROD! A-ROD!” When Matt Every walked in, they sang, “Puff the Magic Dragon … in Iowa …” a not-so-thinly-veiled reference to his arrest on marijuana possession there four years ago.

Yes, there was a little bit of everything at the 16th hole Saturday. As for Palmer, who became the first player to throw cash, he might have established a dangerous precedent for himself.

“I’ll have to make it a ritual there,” he said. “But I’ll just bring a bunch of ones next time.”

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.