Has TPC Scottsdale's 16th crossed the line?

By Jason SobelJanuary 29, 2014, 5:37 pm

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The confluence of events at golf’s biggest party nearly reached an all-time high last year. This was Saturday afternoon at TPC Scottsdale’s infamous 16th hole, the bewitching hour for boisterousness as the most well attended tournament in the world was getting ready to wind down for the day. Or more to the point, the partygoers were preparing for the afterparty.

Favorite son Phil Mickelson, playing in the final group, had already been leading for three days, in itself enough to cause an even more frenzied atmosphere than usual. Then he stepped up to the tee box and hit a shot to within inches of the hole. It paled in comparison to Tiger Woods’ iconic hole-in-one and awkward raise-the-roof celebration from 1997, but only slightly. Pandemonium ensued, the 15,000 spectators surrounding the hole unable to contain their enthusiasm.

“They were excited, let’s put it that way,” said Keegan Bradley, who was playing in that final group. “Which they should have been – he’s their guy, he’s playing well, he’s going to win the tournament, he almost hit a hole-in-one. It was loud and crazy. I was playing with Bill Haas. We had a few things thrown at us.”

Photo gallery: Fans go crazy at TPC Scottsdale's 16th

Waste Management Phoenix Open: Articles, videos and photos

Haas doesn’t recall any specifics of that moment – which speaks volumes about the 16th hole, that having things thrown at a competitor doesn’t even register on the annoyance scale – but he does remember an incident from the same hole earlier in the week.

“A grown man punched a marshal in the face and took him to the ground, right by the tee,” he recalled. “It wasn’t like a 20-year-old college kid who was too drunk. It was somebody’s dad. And it was all because the marshal told him to be quiet, so he punched him.”

All of which should lead to one potentially incendiary question: Have the Waste Management Phoenix Open crowds – more specifically, those rowdy, alcohol-induced galleries at the 16th hole – gotten out of hand?

Call it the clichéd example of a few bad apples spoiling the entire bunch. After all, there aren’t a few thousand grown men punching marshals in the face, but really, it only takes one to shine the spotlight on the drawbacks of throwing a party within the confines of a golf tournament.

According to PGA Tour officials, the event will sustain increased security measures this week, but only because every event on this year’s schedule is undergoing these enhancements.

“Coming out of the terrible tragedy in Boston at the marathon last April, we stepped up our annual review of security programs to make sure they’re sufficient to provide a reasonable level of safety to our players, fans and volunteers,” said Andy Pazder, EVP and Chief of Operations for the PGA Tour.

This included beefing up a wanding policy for every person entering tournament grounds that was previously only strongly encouraged toward individual events, but has now been instituted as mandatory protocol.

That goes for PGA Tour players, too. One competitor in this week’s event was stopped by a security guard who demanded he leave behind the divot-repair tool in his pocket. “Fine,” the player shot back, “but you’re going to have to come fix my ball marks.”

Gone, too, are the caddie races, which had become a staple on the 16th hole. For years, fans had placed wagers in the bleachers as to which looper would reach the green first, unbeknownst to them. Those unassuming walks turned into mild jogs, then all-out sprints, eventually peaking – or bottoming out, according to Ponte Vedra Beach headquarters – with brothers Kip and Brent Henley hilariously racing each other to the delight of the crowd. Their rivalry-driven chase garnered so much attention that it topped Mickelson’s near-ace in one national sportscast’s top plays of the day.

Those races have now been banned, but according to officials it’s not for stealing the spotlight from actual play.

“We’re not doing the caddie races out of an abundance of concern for the caddies’ health,” Ty Votaw, the PGA Tour’s EVP of communications, explained in a comment that left more than a few caddies on the TPC Scottsdale range unable to contain their giggling.

Other than that, though, the 16th-hole hysteria will continue as always this week – marshal-punching notwithstanding.

It will still be golf’s biggest party, still the loudest, most raucous atmosphere in the game. Some tournaments might not get 15,000 spectators for an entire day; the 16th alone garners that many for all four tournament rounds, no problem.

Sometimes that means a line will be crossed, but it’s striking that balance which leaves officials keeping a close eye on the festivities each year.

“We carefully monitor what goes on at the Waste Management Phoenix Open from a fan standpoint,” Pazder said. “We want our fans to have fun, but we want them to also be respectful of our players and caddies. We want those out there to watch golf and do that in an environment that’s family friendly, not excessively profane. We don’t want the rowdiness to detract from it being a terrific community event.”

In this respect, the players agree – even those who have endured things thrown at them during the course of play.

“Once a year, on that hole, you’re ready for it; you’re ready to accept it,” Bradley concluded. “It’s tough to control the 16th, but they do the best they can.”

Getty Images

Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

Getty Images

Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

Getty Images

Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

Getty Images

Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”