Forget 16. The 17th hole at the WM Phoenix Open is where the tournament is won and lost
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – In the final round of last year’s WM Phoenix Open, Sahith Theegala arrived at the tee of the 332-yard par-4 17th hole at TPC Scottsdale with a share of the lead.
Shadowed on both sides by the imposing hospitality structures – the Bay Club and The Cove – the rookie took aim at the green and thought he was about to be rewarded for his derring-do. He struck what he later tabbed a “perfect” shot until his ball bounced left and was gobbled up by the water, which rings the left side and back of the peninsula green. And just like that, his hopes of winning his first PGA Tour title sunk with it.
“As long as it’s another yard right, I think that’s perfect. If it kicks straight, it’s good. Kicked left into the water there,” he said in the aftermath of finishing in a tie for third, one stroke out of a playoff eventually won by Scottie Scheffler.
Theegala has had a year to digest how close his tee sot came to perhaps joining 65 others that kicked on to the putting surface at 17 in 2022, marking the sixth consecutive season with more than 60 tee shots finding the green. Instead, his was the final of 62 balls in last year’s tournament that ended up swimming with the fish. What is it they say about time healing all wounds?
“I don’t think it’s something you ever get over,” Theegala said of his unlucky bounce at 17. “I don’t actively think about it but it’s always going to hurt. I hit a good shot, it just wasn’t the right shot I suppose.”
Theegala isn’t the only one to stand on the 17th tee and realize its make-or-break time with the title on the line. And that’s the brilliance of the hole – players can make anywhere from eagle to double bogey and flip the script. While the par-3 16th hole has become iconic for good reason, the 17th lives in its shadow and is grossly under appreciated.
From Kyle Stanley recovering from a prickly lie to hold on for the title in 2012 to Rickie Fowler losing the tournament with water balls in 2016 to Brooks Koepka pitching in from a brutal lie 45 yards right of the green, it’s 17 that has become pivotal to determining who hoists the trophy on Sunday.
It also has its place in history as home to Andrew Magee’s hole-in-one, which remains the only ace on a par 4 in Tour history. In case anyone dares to forget it, there is a plaque recognizing the feat.
A marker near the 17th tee box at TPC Scottsdale honors the first-ever hole-in-one on a par-4 in PGA Tour history, made by Andrew Magee in 2001. (Photo by Golfweek)
On Thursday morning, the Thunderbirds will host a ceremony at the 17th tee to celebrate Tom Weiskopf, a 16-time winner on the Tour, including the 1973 British Open, and TPC Scottsdale course architect, who died in August at age 79 from pancreatic cancer. A second plaque will be installed in the ground at the tee box, where Weiskopf made the drivable par 4 fashionable again. Since building the 17th hole here in 1986, Weiskopf went on to include at least one on all 74 courses he designed, and five of them have one on each nine.
“I feel every great golf course should have a reachable par 4,” the plaque reads, and below that it says, “Welcome to the 17th hole.”
He said The Old Course at St. Andrews was the source of his inspiration, noting there are four drivable par 4s – Nos. 9, 10, 12 and 18 – but never on the same day, depending on the wind.
“They are hard to build,” Weiskopf told Golfweek in 2020. “I always looked at it as two par 3s in the length of what you’re playing. You have to challenge the layup as much as the tee shot. That’s the hard balance. I think only maybe a third of the time they came out proper with good strategy.”
Weiskopf, indeed, got this one right. Koepka, who won the WM Phoenix Open twice before he departed for LIV Golf, went so far as to call 17 at TPC Scottsdale the best drivable par-4 on Tour.
“It can be very difficult. You’ll see guys make double, no problem,” he said. “I’m a big fan of that hole. I love it.”
Weiskopf’s plan to build 17 as a drivable par 4 nearly was overruled by then-PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman, who opposed the concept.
“The only time we got into a verbal confrontation was over 17. I said, ‘I don’t care what you say I’m going to be right.’ He didn’t think the players would like the hole at all,” Weiskopf recalled.
Xander Schauffele reacts to his tee shot on the 17th hole during the third round of the 2022 WM Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale. (Photo: Patrick Breen/USA TODAY Sports)
Last season, there were 533 par-4s played on Tour and the 17th at TPC Scottsdale had the 59th easiest scoring average (3.847).
Since 2003, Keegan Bradley has found the putting surface 13 times off the tee, most of any player in the last 20 years, while Rickie Fowler has found the water a tournament-high 11 times. For Fowler, it’s been a love-hate relationship. He hit not one but two tee shots in the water – the first long in regulation and the second left in a playoff – at 17 to lose to Hideki Matsuyama in 2016.
“In regulation, it sucked because I hit the shot I wanted to and it happened to catch the down side of the one little knob. Long wasn’t in play unless it landed on the ski slope, but that’s what happened. Just a bad break at the wrong time,” he said. “In the playoff, I ended up turning a 3-wood over a bit too much.”
But he got his revenge in 2019, playing the hole in 4 under, tying for the best performance on the hole by a winner, on his way to victory.
Water left often forces players to bail out to the right, but if they get too close to the bunker, the next shot, a downhill chip running towards the water, is no picnic.
“I like that you have to think where the pin is located,” said Tony Finau, noting that the back-left hole location is one of toughest the pros face all year.
17th hole at TPC Scottsdale (ShotLink era)
• 8,161 total tee shots
• 948 ended up on the green (11.6 percent)
• 685 ended up in the water (8.4 percent)
• 38.54 percent: chance of making par or better after hitting a tee shot in the water
Finau held a two-stroke lead with two holes to play in 2020, but chunked his 3-wood off the tee into a bunker, made par and got caught by Webb Simpson, who birdied the final two holes to force a playoff and won with a birdie on the first extra hole.
“As soon as you say 17, I’m like, ‘ooh, I wish I could have that one back,’ ” Finau said. “I’d like to have a chance to win there and hit it on the green this time. Hopefully it can happen this year.”
Why the 2023 WM Phoenix Open will be the biggest – and richest – yet