Planet Golf — 05 February 2016 by Candace Oehler
Notes & Quotes from Phoenix Open


Phil Mickelson (who won his first of three Waste Management championships 20 years ago, and is making his 27th start in the event)

On the special fan support he gets in Phoenix:

It is a special place to come play. And having an opportunity those last four, five holes coming down the stretch, you can feel the energy of the crowd. It actually helps me focus and helps me get into each shot. …. That feeling of having an opportunity in front of these people, in front of this community that’s meant so much to me, it means a lot to me to play well here.

On changes that have been made to the course since last year:

It’s certainly a harder golf course. The 14th hole is from a driver and a wedge birdie hole, to driver, 4-, 5-iron and a very difficult par. Those little nuances, there are probably three or four of those around the golf course that have changed the essence of the way you attack this course. But it certainly has become harder overall. A lot longer, too.

Bubba Watson (who has tied for second the past two years)

On those same changes:

I don’t like it. I’m not going to PC it. I don’t like it at all. I just mentioned why I’m here. I’ve got three beautiful sponsors that love it here (Ping, Oakley, and Stance Socks) …. I didn’t see any reason to change it. You know, again, they didn’t ask me. It’s just my own opinion.

Wednesday’s Annexus Pro-Am

The field was a little thin on “celebrities” this year, perhaps because Super Bowl last year drew so many athletes and celebs to town. It was disappointing that neither Ken Griffey, Jr. nor Randy Johnson was in the field. But, Dancing With the Stars was well-represented by former competitors Jason Taylor (Season 7) and Emmitt Smith (Winner Season 3) – and yes, this does matter to some people.

Best celebrity amateur in the field was Hall-of-Fame pitcher Greg Maddux, who was on Bubba Watson’s team.

Phil Mickelsen was, of course, the most popular pro on the course and appeared relaxed and very much at home, chatting and laughing with the gallery throughout the day.

Locals were torn between following last week’s winner Brandt Snedeker’s team, with Cardinals coach Bruce Arians on his team, or defending WMPO champion Brooks Koepka, whose team featured the Cards’ Larry Fitzgerald. Fitz easily won that battle.  Watch his sweet swing here: Fitz

Said Snedeker about playing with Coach Arians, “I have a ton of respect for what he’s been able to do in Arizona the last couple of years and what he did at Indianapolis. I kinda bent his ear about Super Bowl and his season and what they are looking to do. Great guy. He made a fan for life for me out there today.”

Chance encounters

Noticed “Wine Valley Golf Club” on the back of a guy’s cap. Had to ask if it was the Walla Walla’s Wine Valley course and, sure enough, it was. He and son came down from Spokane for the tournament; later larned that son, Michael (Big Mike), is a graduate of the Walla Walla Community College Professional Golf Management program, still operated under coach Mike Rostollan. This writer connected several of Seattle’s Fir State Junior Golf Foundation golfers to Coach Mike and that college. It was good to know that the program is still going strong, fielding competitive golf teams in the NWAACC and graduating students with skills to work in the golf industry.

A day at the Coliseum (16th hole)

Bubba bunkered and celebrity teammate Greg Maddux the only one to hit the green. An yes, he made the six-footer for birdie.

Local Diamondbacks reliever Brad Ziegler, perhaps too amped up by the partisan crowd, over-clubbed and over-shot the green.

Phoenix Suns Shot for Glory @ the 16th Hole

To be honest, this event was like a Home Run Derby without any home run hitters. It featured many of the same elements – team dancers and cheerleaders, a celebrity anthem (Bryan McKnight), fireworks shot from the cactus patch between tee and green, Red Bull parachutists, and loud walk-up music for the competitors. There were 26 in all, mostly corporate sponsor executives, and frankly, the most exciting golfer was the first off tee – Eldrick the Golfing Robot – who, on his fourth shot, aced the 141-yard hole. Regretably, Eldrick was not eligible for the $1 million hole-in-one grand prize.

Oh yeah, there was also the now-obligatory surprise “will you marry me moment.”

Watching bad golfers wasn’t all bad, especially from the Oakley corporate Sky Box. It was fun to see NFL Hall-of-Famer Emmitt Smith take closest-to-the-pin honors at 13’8″, and win $40,000 for the Pat and Emmitt Smith Charities. No surprise, Maddux took second at 21”. He took home $25,000 for Candlelighters Charities.


To be continued …..





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About Author

Candace Oehler’s deep dive into sports media began several decades ago when she won a trip from Seattle to Mariners spring training in Arizona. Noting that non-English-speaking Latino ball players received little, if any, media coverage, she fluently/en español became a pioneer in Spanish sports media, and eventually became known affectionately throughout the Latino MLB community as “La Veterana.” Candace has written for team publications and; hosted her own radio show on several Spanish-language stations; served as producer/reporter/engineer for the Mariners’ inaugural season of Spanish radio broadcasts; and has been a reporter for MLB Network Radio the past 10 years. She was invited to Venezuela by future Hall-of-Fame shortstop Omar Vizquel to cover rebuilding efforts and accomplishments of his charitable foundation following the devastating 1999 mudslides; worked in Puerto Rico for former Major Leaguers Joey Cora and Carlos Baerga managing fundraising events; and was the only female in the raucous locker room when the hometown favorite Licey Tigers won the 2004 Caribbean World Series in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Candace was introduced to the game of golf in 1992 by members of Seattle’s historic Fir State Golf Club, who had approached her to manage their (then) little fundraising tournament hosted by a shy, gangly 15-year old Tiger Woods. Candace co-managed the annual event for nearly 20 years, working with hosts that included Ken Griffey, Sr., Birdie Griffey, Mike Cameron, Nate McMillan, Warren Moon, and Dale Ellis. She became secretary of the club and the Fir State Junior Golf Foundation, and got totally, completely hooked on golf, learning to play on a set of Redbirds given to her by the club (apparently they considered her mother’s Patty Bergs a bit antiquated). She has since traded up to another set of Redbirds and a much more user-friendly golf environment in Arizona. And, once a prolonged stint on the DL is over, she can’t wait to get back on the course and continue lowering her current 21-handicap to ….?

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