Its Party Time on the PGA Tour


2005 FBR OpenSCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Forget the genteel aura of golf. It's party time!
The FBR Open -- formerly known as the Phoenix Open -- begins a four-day run Thursday. It's the rowdiest stop on the PGA Tour, with big, boisterous crowds creating a spirited scene that irritates some golfers and invigorates others.
The epicenter is the par-3, 162-yard 16th hole, a bowl-shaped setup lined by about 7,000 noisy fans who root, sometimes quite creatively for good shots, and offer unabashed critiques of the bad ones.
'It's like playing a golf shot in the Rose Bowl,' said Tom Lehman, who won the tournament in 2000. 'It's unlike any place that you'll ever go.'
Near the tee, some fans don the appropriate college jerseys of golfers' old schools and sing the fight song.
'You just try to enjoy it,' said Justin Leonard, winner of last week's Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. 'There are some really smart guys sitting out there behind that 16th tee because I turned around one day, I think it was last year, and they had volumes printed on players, and they were singing like high school fight songs for guys. I mean, it's unbelievable.'
When Tiger Woods made a hole-in-one on the 16th in 1997, fans showered the green with hundreds of beer cups, most of them still quite full.
Another time, Mike Weir, who hails from Sarnia, Ontario, was serenaded by the 16th crowd with an off-key rendition of 'Oh, Canada.'
There have been some less-jovial moments, too, such as in 2002, when a fan shouted 'Noonan' -- from the movie 'Caddyshack' -- just as Chris DiMarco was putting.
For the fourth year in a row, Woods is not in the field. He insists it is only a scheduling issue, but he has had more than his share of adventures at the Phoenix stop, some good, some bad.
The worst was in 1999, when an intoxicated man who was heckling Woods pushed a police officer and was wrestled to the ground, then arrested. A loaded handgun was found in the man's fanny pack, but police determined the man did not intend to harm Woods.
After the round, Woods criticized the booze-soaked atmosphere.
'People come out here not to watch golf,' he said then. 'The majority come out here to have a good time.'
The Thunderbirds, the charity organization that runs the tournament, tightened alcohol rules after that, and beefed up security. Tournament chairman Bryon Carney said the FBR Open now spends more on security than any other PGA event.
But even Woods has joined in the spirit of the tournament, too.
In 1999, he took advantage of perhaps the largest movable obstacle in the history of golf. When one of his shots landed directly behind a boulder that weighed about a ton, Woods enlisted the help of several fans to push it out of the way.
Woods, who never has won the tournament, returned in 2001, and as he was preparing to putt on the ninth green, someone hurled an orange over his head. He hasn't been back since.
Carney said event organizers must blend the good-time environment with the protocol required of the PGA Tour.
'I refrain from calling it a party, but it clearly is a happening,' Carney said. 'We want the best players in the world to come here, so we recognize that you have to keep this in balance. Other than probably the last three holes, it's like every
other tournament. Our 16th hole over the years has come quite famous.'
He said the antics on the 16th have been toned down in recent years, with expensive corporate boxes replacing some of the area previously occupied by 'college students.' Still, there is plenty of room for exuberance.
'I think people throughout the country, when they think of the FBR Open, the first thing that comes to mind probably is the 16th hole here,' Carney said. 'What we would like it to be is that the players come through, fans treat them with respect, they get great cheers, sometimes they get their fight song sung to them. But then when it's time to hit the ball, that it's completely quiet.'
Inside the ropes, away from the bloody mary, beer and ice-cream vendors, is a par-71, 7,216-yard layout with deeper-than-usual rough and narrow fairways.
The tournament draws just over a half-million fans -- more than any other PGA event. The purse is $5.2 million, with the winner getting $936,000.
Jonathan Kaye, who lives in Phoenix, is the defending champion.
'I grew up here, went to high school and grade school here, so this is pretty much my home,' Kaye said. 'It's like a major to me.'
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