January 29, 2009
When it comes to golf holes, everyone's got their favorites. Amen Corner at Augusta? Beautiful. The 17th at Sawgrass? Maddening. The ocean stretch at Pebble Beach? Magnificent.
But take 'em all, crush 'em in a blender, cover them with wing sauce, add a couple dozen plastic cups of beer, and you've got the 16th at TPC Scottsdale. Love it or hate it -- and I love it -- you've got to admit, it's one of the most memorable holes in golf. It's listed by the PGA as the easiest hole on tour, but it's got a risk-reward factor unlike any other.
The crowd of 20,000 -- yes, you read that right -- at the 16th is half AC/DC concert, half Florida State tailgate, and this year the hole will be totally enclosed. Players coming to the tee get introduced by an emcee and heckled by the crowd, and from there it only gets worse. Tom Lehman once called it akin to playing golf in the Rose Bowl. It's a long way from the staid, stodgy image of golf, and players either love it or loathe it. Here's one fella who fed on the vibe of the 16th back in 1997:
On the other hand, Justin Leonard once flipped off the crowds, and Chris DiMarco had a fan who shouted "Noonan!" on his putt kicked out of the tournament. The beer-fueled crowds cheer every green shot and mercilessly boo every weak approach. Local boy Phil Mickelson always receives huge cheers, and with the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl, the crowds are likely to be damn near delirious.
I don't think golf could handle -- or support -- crowds like this on every stop, but for this weekend, at least, it's going to be a fine place to drink a little beer and watch some putting. And maybe do a little polite hollering now and then, too.