Planet Golf — 31 January 2019 by Candace Oehler
The People Await their Open

SCOTTSDALE, AZ –The chalets have been carpeted.  The beer is chilling. And the field is set for the 84th Waste Management Phoenix Open Presented by the Ak-Chin Indian Community. It’s the calm before the swarm.

Nicknamed “The Greatest Show on Grass” and “The People’s Tournament,” the event has been named PGA TOUR “Tournament of the Year,” three of the past five years, most recently in 2018. It also tied with the Safeway Open for “Most Fan-First Event.”  Earlier in the week, it was announced that Waste Management, now in its tenth year of title sponsorship, has extended their commitment for another decade, through 2030.

But, calling this a mere “tournament” diminishes the sheer magnitude of the experience. After breaking the 700,000 mark in attendance last year, with over 200,000 spectators on Saturday alone, 2019 looks to be another record breaking year


132 players will tee off at TPC Scottsdale, vying for the $7.1 million purse, the $1,278,000 first-place check and 500 FedExCup points. The tournament always attracts a quality field and this year is no exception. In all, 21 of the top 30 in FedEx Cup rankings will tee off Thursday, including defending champion Gary Woodland, who defeated Chez Reavie in a playoff last year.  In addition, 23 of the Top-50 players in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) are in the field.

Notables include local favorites, the former ASU Sun Devils Phil Mickelson, Jon Rahm, and Reavie;  Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler, Zach Johnson, Bubba Watson, Keegan Bradley, Matt Kuchar, Tony Finau, Webb Simpson, Xander Schauffele,  Jimmy Walker, and winner of the Desert Classic, rookie Adam Long.


Wednesday’s Annexus Pro-Am and Phoenix Suns Charities Shot at Glory (at TPC Scottsdale 16th hole, 150-yard par 3) were highlighted by an eclectic field of celebrities. 

Last year’s champion, former Diamondbacks pitcher Patrick Corbin, who recently signed with the Washington Nationals, was not in attendance to defend his title. Left to represent the Diamondbacks were his former teammates – Archie Bradley and Yoshihisa Hirano – and manager Torey Lovullo, whose contract with the team was recently extended.

Other MLB players in competition included Chicago Cubs World Series Champion and three-time All-Star Anthony Rizzo; 2011 Major League Baseball MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander; MLB Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux; and former Diamondback / Chicago Cub Miguel Montero.

Superstars were everywhere:  NBA Hall of Famer Jason Kidd; Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Golden Tate, Arizona Cardinals All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson; NFL Hall-of-Famers Richard Dent and Emmitt Smith.  World Long Drive Champion Troy Mullins was the lone female celebrity, and was accompanied by her dog, Etta James, for whom the day was definitely not a good walk spoiled. Decorated Olympian Michael Phelps drew the largest following.

The Phoenix Suns Charities Shot at Glory, held at 16 following the conclusion of the Pro-Am, was organized chaos at its best.  Not a hole-in-one was made, but the trash talking between the celebs and disses by the rapper who introduced them, was priceless. 

New at 16 this year is a monument to those who have aced the hole.  While Tiger’s 1997 hole in one is by far the most memorable, eight other names are engraved on the plaque with his. The most recent is that of 2018 British Open champion Francesco Molinari, who accomplished the feat in 2015.


2018 Champion Gary Woodland (at the December tee-off luncheon)

Putting success – When I putt it well, it’s just a different ballgame. I sought out some help at the British this year, I hired a new putting coach, and it’s really changed everything. That’s why I’ve been playing so well. I don’t have to rely so much on my ball-striking now. I know I’m going to putt it well.  And if I don’t have a good round putting, I know what I’m doing.  My confidence level is completely different and that’s why I’ve been so much more consistent lately and that’s why I’m excited about going forward.”

President’s Cup team – It’s always on my mind. I’ve talked to Tiger, you gotta feel that if he’s healthy he’ll be a playing captain, which would be really cool. I definitely feel my game’s trending toward that.  I’ve been really close the last six years so it’s just one of those deals that I’ve gotta bust through that door.  But I really believe my game’s in a position this year to take care of that.

Phil Mickelson, 3-time Phoenix Open winner, making his 30th Phoenix Open start

The course – I always felt this was a good golf course for me, always thought I would play well here, and I always believed I would win this event.

Changes – One of the things that I could not have foreseen is probably the size, scale, scope of this tournament has become.  The 16th hole, what a famous and unique experience that is from a golfer standpoint, it’s unlike anything we have.  It was always special, but it became something bigger and larger than I think I ever thought possible.

His current game – I’m always pretty positive, but I’m very optimistic about this year because the two areas that I needed to address the last couple of years I feel like have finally come together.  One of them is putting, I’ve been putting very well, and the other is distance and speed, and that’s been, that’s come around too.

Jon Rahm, three consecutive top-10 finishes to start 2019

Phil playing his 30th – The first thing that comes to my mind is he’s played here more times than I’ve been alive.  Because I’m 24 and, when I was born he was playing his sixth tournament around here.  So it’s incredible.

His game – It’s a great start to the year, I love the West Coast Swing and this week for me is definitely really, really high on my rankings.  I love the week, I played good as an amateur and pro, I was in the final group last year, so hopefully this is the one week where everything kind of clicks and I give myself a chance to win again.


@WMPhoenixOpen (Instagram)
@WMPhoenixOpen (Twitter)

  The 17th hole lake gopher.

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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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