The WM Phoenix Open is also called “The People’s Open” for the raucous energy it provides, but precipitation rained on the parade of the opening round Thursday.
Hole 16 is known as “the loudest hole in golf” for its unique coliseum atmosphere on the PGA Tour, but a three-and-a-half hour rain delay chased away many spectators, leaving sections of empty seats in the aftermath. The fans that persevered through the suspension of play still made their presence felt, but Irish golfer Shane Lowry could sense the difference of camaraderie at TPC Scottsdale.
“If anything, it’s more disappointing to me because the atmosphere is not as good as it normally is, with everyone being so cold and wrapped up,” Lowry says. “I’m sure there’s less drinks being taken out there as well, because it’s not exactly nice weather to have a cold beer in your hands. Yeah, it’s one of those where you just have to deal with whatever comes. I think the weather’s going to be nice tomorrow, not great Saturday, and nice again on Sunday. So it will still be cold all week. We’ll see what happens.”
A rain delay on the first day of the tournament sets an ominous tone for the rest of the weekend, especially when there is no guarantee that the weather will improve. Rain postponed the final round at Pebble Beach to Monday and shortened the Phoenix Open Pro-Am early Wednesday, confirming Mother Nature has not been kind to the PGA as of late.
It’s ironic considering that the Phoenix Open is one of the non-major golf tournaments that players circle at the beginning of the calendar year for Arizona’s inviting winter weather. However, if there is a tournament that can come back from a demoralizing start, golfer Sahith Theegala knows this is the one that can with the passionate fans in attendance.
“I was surprised at how many fans were out here when it was raining sideways and blowing 20 (miles per hour), and freezing,” Theegala says. “It was cool to see all the support and people chanting my name and all that, it’s the best. I got a good sense of that last year when I came back after the run I made the first year, so to be back is always great.”
The conditions were far from ideal with the rain pouring down for several hours. Golfers attempted to play when it was sprinkling around noon, but the course would be deemed “unplayable” as water soaked the grass.
“I love firm and fast conditions and the last couple years that’s what it was,” Theegala says. “Even this year again, the grounds crew has done an incredible job for keeping it relatively firm for how much rain we’ve gotten, like, the ball was still taking a skip.
“I think you’re going to see that. Hopefully come Sunday it might take a few bigger bounces — it’s not going to be what it was last year where it’s a cart path — but some of my favorite conditions all year. So, I think it’s a little bit of both. I just kind of embrace the craziness of the week and the fans.”
The crazy circumstances of the rain delay personify the crazy course that is the Phoenix Open. Golf is traditionally a proper sport where volunteers stand at the edge of the course holding signs that say, “Quiet Please,” but that courtesy is ignored in Scottsdale. For “The People’s Open,” it’s almost poetic that one of the more unusual atmospheres had an unusual day of rainy weather.
Rain delays may not be common in Arizona, but it is certainly something that golf courses endure throughout the country. It’s a situation that nobody wants to be in, but Lowry understands that he can’t let it affect his play.
“You ride it out,” Lowry says. “It’s one of those where the older you get, the more you realize you don’t let it affect you. Just go in and chill out.”
It’s only the first of potentially four days in the tournament. It can be easy to let adversity affect a golfer’s approach, but it is important to remember that bigger events remain. The Phoenix Open is great preparation for the rest of the PGA season.
“Yeah, obviously those events on the PGA TOUR are huge,” Lowry says. “ I — obviously — look at the Masters in April as a huge goal and everything over the next few months is kind of gearing toward that.”
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