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The Phoenix Open is drunk - and that's just fine

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"You don't have to be crazy to live here, but it helps." -- Dr. Seuss

The Arizona Republic-USA TODAY Sports

SCOTTSDALE, AZ — For 51 weeks out of the year, life as a PGA Tour professional is simple enough. They arrive in a city on Monday or Tuesday, get in a couple of practice rounds, and then attempt to play golf better than 130 other guys from Thursday through Sunday.

Sometimes they take a week off. Sometimes they take two. But for the most part, the calendar of a professional golfer is filled with tournaments all across the country - different in name, but all the same in nature.

Except one.

***

The Stadium Course at TPC Scottsdale is about a 30 minute drive from Sky Harbor International airport in downtown Phoenix. Jump on the 101, drive past the hundreds of chain restaurants and shopping centers that litter the city of Scottsdale, and eventually you will stumble upon the site of the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish, the Stadium Course was one of the first in the United States to be constructed for the main purpose of hosting a PGA event.

The result was a beautiful 7,200 yard course, complete with wavy fairways and white-sand bunkers. Over half of the holes play towards the picturesque McDowell Mountain Range, giving competitors the feeling that they are playing golf in the middle of a postcard.

In just 30 years, the course has already given players and spectators alike numerous memories. While the track has endured a few changes - some minor, some a little bigger - everything is largely in the same spot as it was when ground was broken back in 1986.

You can walk the desert waste area on No. 13 and stand in the same spot where a number of fans helped Tiger Woods move a seemingly unmovable boulder. Fans sitting beside the green at No. 17 are in the same spot where the first ever hole-in-one on a par-4 in PGA Tour history was recorded.

And then of course, there's the par-3 16th.

Playing at just over 160 yards, the short hole used to naturally attract fans who were interested in seeing the possibility of an ace or birdie. By the mid-1990's, No. 16 had become an entire event in and of itself, known for its large (and intoxicated) crowds. And on one Saturday in 1997, it grew even larger.

Tiger's ace transformed the Phoenix Open from a popular golf tournament into something completely different. It quickly became one of the top sporting events in the country, with attendance spiking to 467,600 for the 1998 tournament.

Corporate suites were soon added behind the tee box and to the right and left of the fairway on No. 16, and not long thereafter were grandstands erected behind the green. That brought the total capacity on the hole to approximately 20,000, meaning it is not only the lone fully enclosed hole on tour, but also the most well-attended.

"It is very intimidating up there," said Shane Lowry after playing the hole for the first time on Thursday. "I was just praying I was going to hit the green. It was pretty exciting."

***

If Thursday was exciting, Saturday was an exhilarating thrill ride that took off at 6:00 a.m. and didn't slow down until some seven hours later. The gates to the course didn't even open until 7:00, and once they did it was open season for the fans that had been waiting patiently in line.

One by one - dressed in football jerseys, American flag onesies, orange cowboy hats, and other colorful items - they sprint to the grandstands at No. 16 like they are in Pamplona at the Running of the Bulls.

Later in the day, an older man in a polo will ask a college student why he is wearing a Von Miller jersey at a golf tournament.

The student's answer: "Because this is a free country."

Fair enough.

The 16th hole is an all-day party, with drinking starting early in the morning and continuing well after the last group departs. It doesn't take long for the inebriated faithful to forget they are at a golf tournament, where players are trying to execute shots and earn a living.

On one occasion, the crowd in the grandstands starts a de-fense chant. Later in the afternoon, Jeff Overton is forced to hit a putt with a group of people yelling in his backstroke as if they are trying to draw an offensive lineman into a false start.

He didn't seem to mind.

And that's the best part of all of this.

The players embrace the craziness. Nowhere else are you going to be booed for hitting a bad shot. There's no excessive gambling between patrons on Amen Corner at Augusta National.

You don't have to be crazy to succeed at the Phoenix Open, but it certainly doesn't hurt. For one week out of the year, the PGA Tour is a drunken party that feels more like a college football game than a golf tournament.

"It's awesome playing in front of big crowds," said fan-favorite Rickie Fowler. "I grew up around action sports, and this kind of reminds me more of being at one of those events. Being acclimated to the atmosphere definitely helps."

With TPC Scottsdale lying so close to the campus of Arizona State, the six former Arizona State Sun Devils in the field this week were fan favorites as well.

While none of them ended up at the top of the leaderboard, Phil Mickelson did finish tied for 11th with a score of eight under par.

"I played really well this week," Mickelson said on Sunday. "I had a good tournament and will get a lot of momentum from this week."

***

23-year-old Hideki Matsuyama ended up winning the Waste Management Phoenix Open early on Sunday evening. He outlasted Fowler after four grueling playoff holes, finishing the tournament at 14 under par.

The crowd that stayed through the start of the Super Bowl to watch the playoff wasn't a big one. Matsuyama and Fowler weren't headed back to hole 16, so there was little reason to stick around.

The bright lights of stadium golf were turned off. The party was over.

They weren't there for the golf anyway. And that's just fine.