SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – With the sports world still mourning the tragic death of NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, players at this week’s Waste Management Phoenix Open have various plans to honor the fallen Lakers legend.
Bryant was one of nine people killed in a helicopter crash Sunday, with the news breaking in the midst of the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open. Tributes have poured in since from all walks of life, including Tour players who viewed Bryant’s “Mamba mentality” as a source of competitive inspiration.
Justin Thomas revealed that he’ll honor Bryant’s legacy with stamps on a fresh set of wedges that he’ll put into play this week at TPC Scottsdale, and Wednesday he donned one of Bryant’s Lower Merion High School jerseys while playing the 16th hole during the pro-am.
“I’ve always been a huge fan of his. I’ve always loved watching him play, just loved hearing about his work ethic and stuff that he did on and off the court, and how he always worked harder than everybody else,” Thomas said. “Obviously he’s freakishly talented, but why he was better than everybody else was because he was going to work harder to get there and just kind of will himself to be a winner.”
Reigning U.S. Open champ Gary Woodland plans to write a Bryant tribute on his shoes this week, and he has swapped out his putter cover for one that features the Lakers’ colors of purple and gold. Woodland noted that news of Bryant’s death “shut the world down for a day,” but the biggest impact he felt was tied to the relationship Bryant had with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, who also died in the crash.
“For me personally, looking at him the last couple years, I want to be like him as a father,” Woodland said. “I brought by kid out yesterday. My kid’s two and a half. That’s the first time he’s walked with me on a golf course; he came out during the practice round. Because with Kobe being taken away, you don’t know how much time we have. And I want to be able to share more time with my son now, and when my daughters get older.”
Defending champ Rickie Fowler may join Woodland by adding an homage on his apparel this week in Arizona, but he also believes that Bryant will receive a significant outpouring from fans and players alike.
“I don’t think Kobe needs any help as far as tributes go. I’m sure I’ll add some stuff here and there,” Fowler said. “But yeah, I don’t think Kobe’s going to struggle with support from fans and people around the world. He did his job. He’s pretty accomplished and very well-respected.”