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.
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.”