A year ago in the Arizona desert, completely unbeknownst to the CBS broadcast team, an American hero was catapulting past names on the leaderboard and into the hearts of a nation desperate to be saved from the wrath of Bubba. A bogey free weekend that featured rounds of 64 and 66 gave Brooks Koepka his first win in just his third career start as an official PGA Tour member. Coming off a T-3 finish at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, he’s one of the favorites in Phoenix this week to triumphantly defend his title.
After a rough week in San Diego with thick rough and horrific weather, TPC Scottsdale serves as an oasis of birdies for the players, while the patrons drink from an oasis of kegs. Be prepared for a lot of conversation about the huge crowds, with estimations that sound less believable than a campaign promise. At some point, the Thunderbirds (more on them below) are going to have to hire an accounting firm to audit these numbers (accounting jokes for days, people). Maybe we call on the USGA to come up with a rule where you can’t post the attendance numbers unless someone else is there to verify them.
The broadcast will make plenty of awkward cross references to it being Super Bowl week, but thankfully it’s not down the road this year, and we don’t have to spend most of Sunday afternoon trying to figure out if Jordan Spieth is going to make it to the game on time. The downside is that Koepka’s tee shot on 18 can no longer serve as the ceremonial flyover at the tail end of the Star Spangled Banner.
The course, outside of holes 15 through 17, is completely forgettable. But these three holes, under tournament conditions especially, have provided the setting for plenty of drama in recent years. #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.
Before: Just a bunch of people hanging out and day drinking
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:
What about Joe Main St.?
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.
Now: Heavily-branded, Choreographed Fun
This year, be prepared for Ziku virus like infestation of dabbing in this corporate mecca. The safest bet on the board is that Harold Varner III will be hitting the dab come bogey or birdie on Thursday. The worst is going to be when NBC tries to explain it and oh great now I’m already cringing.
Odds to hit the dabb:
- Varner (1/5)
- Hahn (1/2)
- Fowler (2/1)
- Bubba (4/1)
- Simpson (100/1)
- Mickelson (1000/1)
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!
One thing we can 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 four years since Kyle F’n Stanley won this thing?
I’ve stated in the past that KFS is the original NLU man-crush….. the O.G. if you will. A strong performance in the Web.com Tour Playoffs, and a decent start to his 2016 campaign has me encouraged that we’re going to see a comeback. The Nike transition has been tough, with his ball striking numbers taking a huge hit. But for him, it’s always been about putting, and if he can run into a few hot weeks with the flat stick, don’t be surprised to see him on some leaderboards this year.
Fantasy wise, load up on the heavy hitters at the top of the field: Bubba, Phil, Rickie, Koepka, Mats, Duf, and Sneds. Kevin Na has a great history here, but he’s only listed at 30/1.
Ryan Moore has a ton of success in Phoenix, and is a lot further down the list at 60/1, if you’re looking for some value.
- Someone’s got a #PrayForTedScott yell on 16 in them this week, right?
- On the broadcast, you may hear reference to “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).
- 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.
- With Sneds and Duf triumphantly announcing their returns to relevance, it’s time for what seems to be a now weekly fresh lens look into what the Ryder Cup team is going to look like. Rather than sub in a hot name to the roster every week, let me just say how badly I want to lineup and play this thing right now. It always seems like the Americans tend to dominate this part of the schedule, and considering the geography of it, that makes sense. But these are two guys that I hadn’t even considered for the team a few months ago, and their re-emergence is just giving an already plush DLIII a few more toys to play with.
- Also, I thought of a joke for when the Ryder Cup goes to Rome in 2022. It’s too late after the announcement for it to be relevant, but I don’t want to wait six more years to make it. But anyways, are the Italians going to switch sides again when the Americans unload the landing craft in 2022? (I’m really sorry. You can close the browser tab now.)