The Big Feline is back! Joined by Gerry, Rickie, Spieth, Koepka, Phil, Horschel, Matsuyama, and many more, it finally feels like the PGA Tour season is officially starting. Can you believe this commercial is six years old? Well yeah, there’s a plethora of Justin Leonard and Stewart Cink appearances.
Get yer’ shotguns, it’s another week of target practice out in the desert! TPC Scottsdale has been renovated, with the details here.
The course, outside of holes 15 through 17, is completely forgettable. But these three holes, under tournament conditions especially, are pretty cool. #15 is an NLU-endorsed, completely reachable par-5 which presents some risk due to water all down the left side, as well as loosely surrounding the green. #16 is wholly unremarkable under normal conditions, but transforms to a crucible of nerves and excitement (more on this in a second) this week. Finally, #17 may be one of the most underrated holes on Tour. It’s a true risk-reward par-4, playing 332 yards on the card but often shorter in competition. There’s water just off the green left and long, forcing most guys to bail short and right. But be on the look out for the handful of Aces challenging the flag, especially the back/left location nearest the hazard–these guys deserve our utmost respect and admiration.
The 18th hole has been a criminally nondescript par-4 with a pond that’s not really in play off the tee. In fact, prudent strategy the last few years is to just bomb Driver as far as possible in the general direction of the hole, taking the hazard out of play, and getting a free drop from the grandstands if need be. It’s an anti-climatic end to a strong finishing stretch of holes, not to mention the tourney in general.
The 16th Hole
We’re all about fun here. So naturally, you would think we’d be all over the most fun hole in golf. But we also like to hate on things, and while the 16th hole is awesome, it’s not what it once was. We touched on Tiger’s return there in our January mailbag.
This is an issue that hits close to home. The 16th hole is far and away one of the coolest places to enjoy golf. It has nothing to do with the hole itself and everything to do with the atmosphere. It’s the epicenter of the week’s debauchery. Imagine the 16th like your favorite bar, on the best night of the year, with an amazing crowd of friends, gorgeous scenery, prime people-watching opportunities, and a collective BAC that’s closer to ‘coma’ than ‘legal.’ However, the last few years there’s been a steady, corporate gentrification of the hole. We’re seeing the displacement of hundreds of frat bro’s and sorostitutes from the hill behind the right side of the green, shrinking public bleachers down the left side (taking away the vantage of the 15th green–some of the best people AND golf watching opportunities from the top of that grandstand), and an influx of corporate boxes/grandstands now completely surrounding the hole and squeezing Joe Fan out.
Look at the how the hole has transformed just within the last few years, from more public-friendly:
To a bastion of corporate excess:
At some point enough’s enough, and the resplendent plebeian chants of “corporate sucks!” will fall silent, as there aren’t any more plebeians. Very rarely do we get all populist around here, but in this case we feel obligated. If the T-Birds aren’t careful, we’ll have the equivalent of a Coliseum chock full of Senators and Patricians munching on grapes and attempting to refine the bacchanal proceedings unfolding before them. Unacceptable. Never forget why the 16th hole is the 16th: it was a place anyone could chill while enjoying some pops, catching some rays, and talking a little junk.
We’ll have more on this later this week.
Normally we tuck this section into the nether-reaches of the column, but not this week. This tournament is ALL vibe. It’s style over substance, except the style is really goddamn substantive. For years now there have been countless pieces attempting to capture the atmosphere, so we’ll save our breath and boil it down like this: fake blondes, haterblockers, day-drinking, fake blondes, high heels at a golf tournament LOLZ, day-drinking, fake boobs, cut-offs and tribal ink, ASU co-eds, sunshine, mountains, fake blondes, day-drinking, a spirited mix of Ed Hardy apparel and exclusive golf-club-logo duds, fake boobs, more haterblockers, day-drinking, fake blondes, and last but not least, day-drinking.
Think of the average dude who shows up for the tournament as Trapster or “The Sack” from Wedding Crashers. The average female pretty much ranges from naturally gorgeous to artificially-enhanced gorgeous. In a nutshell, the week is exceedingly fun, chill as hell, and actually conducive to a wide range of interests (e.g. drinking, posting, styling, bronzing, gambling, heckling, and even spectating).
A big chunk of credit for the vibe goes to the tournament organizers and hosts; the all-male, civic organization of Phoenix dubbed, ‘The Thunderbirds.’
Golf-charity Illuminati, the T-birds purposely shroud themselves in mystery, which is way too okay with us. You’ll see these guys patrolling the grounds, dressed in the most spectacularly ostentatious threads–indigo, plush-velvet blouse tops, aggressive belt buckles, and pseudo-Jesus-pieces hanging low and loud. Really, it’s perfect. It’s exactly how I want my mysterious, fraternal, civic-minded organizations to front. So many questions, so much confusion.
Started way back in 1937, the Thunderbirds have strict membership bylaws. First off, like any self-respecting secret order, you don’t find them, they find you (a public directory of Thunderbirds does not exist). At any time, there are only 55 ‘active’ members, and to join the flock, one has to be nominated by at least two actives. Further, like the best part of fraternity bid night, nominated members must be unanimously voted in by the group. Black balls are in play, y’all!
Interestingly, active members have to be 45 years old or younger. Old and comfortable need not apply, the T-birds are young and hungry! Once an active crosses the age-45 threshold, they transition (we’ll guess through some sort of lurid ceremony) to ‘lifetime’ member. These lifetime members still help out with proceedings at the WM Open and other initiatives, just realize they aren’t calling the shots.
The most incredible part of the Thunderbird group is their election of a leader, a self-glossed, ‘Big Chief.’ Oh. Hell. Yes!
The current Big Chief is a go-hard named Tom King.
The last thing we’ll say, and with utmost certainty, is these guys know how to play host to a hell of a party. The atmosphere around the Phoenix Open may not necessarily be their doing, per-se, but their public-service mission has evolved into a municipally-decreed week-long rager – cool with us. A big NLU-salute to all the Thunderbirds, whoever the hell you are.
Lastly, while most will pay homage to the Bird’s Nest, we’ll refrain. We view it as an affront and diversion to the day-drinking, and an overcrowded, over-hyped after-party spot. Post golf, go clean up, grab a choice cut of meat and bottle(s) of wine, and hunt big game in its natural habitat around Scottsdale/Phoenix.
Has it really been three years since Kyle F’n Stanley won this thing?
- Hideki MatsuYOTTO (25/1) – T4 here last year, and opened the season in Hawaii with a 3rd place finish.
- Justin Thomas (40/1) – 2 units this week.
- Brooks Koepka (40/1) –
- Tony Finau (100/1) – Open track that celebrates length. Let the big man eat.
- Erik Compton (125/1) – Threatened last week, would have thought the odds would have been shorter.
(Tracker: +7 units in 2015)
- On Friday afternoon the guys on CBS will reference “a course up north of here” where certain guys who played in the morning went to practice. That place is Whisper Rock and we at NLU hold this place in similar esteem to how Muslims view Mecca. Besides having arguably the most talented golfing membership anywhere, their 19th hole shuts it down.
- Little known fact: Billy Mayfair’s YOTTO trophy from ’95 is kept on premises in the clubhouse at TPC Scottsdale (much like the Heisman Trophy at respective winners’ campuses). Oh wait, there isn’t a YOTTO trophy. Damnit.
- The pot in 1997 was $1,500,000. In 1999, it was $3,000,000, but probably because suits starting making it rain on 16 when Tiger made the ace.
- I know how shocking it is for us to fall in love with a young American with huge swing speed, insane distance, and oodles of #TourSauce, but just let me say again how head over heels I am for Justin Thomas. Many were calling for this guy as a breakout star, but you also hear so many names as potential sleepers that you tend to lose track as to who is who. This weekend was my first look at him, and he’s going to fit in quite well with the NLU gang. If his 2 iron off of 16 doesn’t go 275 yards into a bunker, and the double bogey that followed, he probably wins that event, and we’d be looking at him in an “Is he the next Spieth? My Column:” way. Expect us to be equally annoying about him going forward as we usually are.
- FYI on our previews: A lot of the stuff that applies to multiple years (course, vibe, etc.), you’re going to see some stuff that we’ve just rolled forward from last year’s preview (mostly Tron Carter’s work). Is this poor journalism? Absolutely. That’s why we aren’t actually journalists. Of course the picks section, and recent events will always be updated, but previews are hard to do, and there is no point in trying to recreate some of the stuff that we’ve already covered.
Check in with the NLU Gang all week on twitter whilst we do our usual hood-rat act: @NoLayingUp.