SCOTTSDALE – As the galleries fill up this weekend for the Waste Management Phoenix Open, fans and players will be watching the Weather Channel as closely as the Golf Channel throughout the week.
The “People’s Open” follows the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on the PGA Tour schedule, and the AT&T was cut short Sunday after 54 holes due to dangerous weather conditions.
There is a chance that the TPC Scottsdale might be in for similar weather challenges with a so-called “atmospheric river” headed toward the desert southwest.
“Certainly we weren’t able to play any golf and it got pretty dangerous there to be honest with you. There were powerlines and trees down,” said Jim “Bones” Mackay, the caddie of Justin Thomas. “Expect the worst and if something other than that happens, then it’s nice and just cruise through.
“But that’s going to be part of what happens this week.”
Pebble Beach was the first PGA Tour event to be called after 54 holes since the 2016 Zurich Classic in New Orleans. There is a small chance that the “Greatest Show on Grass” makes it two in a row.
The path from Monterey to Scottsdale perfectly follows the pattern of an atmospheric river currently hitting California. There are concerns over the players’ travel plans to Arizona with Sunday’s weather at Pebble Beach consisting of two inches of rain and possible 60 mph winds. Hundreds of flights in the Bay Area were canceled due to the storm that is now heading east toward Arizona.
Even with the hectic weather watch ongoing, many golfers are looking forward to the week of competition.
“This is just a very, very relaxing week. I mean obviously it’s not relaxing on that 16th tee,” Mackay said, referring to TPC Scottsdale’s “coliseum” par-3. “But again, you come here, you know where you’re going to stay. You’ve been coming for years. You know what to eat, what to do. So guys just want to get in front and carry the momentum they’ve had in previous weeks to hopefully a good finish here.”
Monday might be the only day that lives up to Arizona’s reputation of year-round sunshine. The Weather Channel forecasts showers from Tuesday through Saturday. If there is a stoppage in play, once it resumes, the tournament can allow golfers to play 36 holes in one day to catch up if needed, according to the PGA procedures. If 72 holes can not be finished through Sunday, it can continue into Monday or Tuesday.
“We already have a plan in place for these type of weather situations,” said Brandon Reese, the director of golf course operations at the PGA Tour. “The good news is the course is in fantastic condition and we’re prepared for anything.”
The PGA inclement weather policy is set in five different stages. It ranges from all clear, requiring no actions to be taken, all the way to a complete closure of the course requiring all players, fans and sponsors to immediately exit the premises. It does not specify what kind of weather is required for a suspension of play. The only indication is a visual depicting high winds, lightning and a tornado.
“I think that it will keep some people away, but I think a lot of people will still show up just because of the event. Especially on the 16th hole,” said golf fan Tom Tkach, an Arizona resident who took in Monday’s practice round.
The tournament typically has enjoyed perfect weather through the years, but in 2011 frost and even frozen greens caused several delays and the final round wasn’t completed until Monday. And in 1979, heavy rains and flooding caused the event to be cut to 54 holes when it was played at Phoenix Country Club near downtown Phoenix.
Along with the gloomy weather ahead, fans will be disappointed to hear that two of the top golfers in this year’s field have withdrawn after playing at Pebble Beach. Viktor Hovland and Xander Schauffele have both withdrawn after disappointing performances at the pro-am.
No reason was given for either’s decision, but it could be partly because the Phoenix Open is sandwiched between two signature events with Pebble Beach and The Genesis Invitational. As a non-signature event, the Phoenix Open dropped its purse from $20 million to $8.8 million.
Even with the withdrawals, this year’s tournament still boasts a loaded field with nine of the top 20 players in the Official World Golf Ranking making the trip. On top of that, five more players in the top 20 of the FedExCup standings are also playing. Scottie Scheffler is looking to win the open for the third straight year, becoming the first player to win three straight events on tour since 2011. The tour’s most recent winner Wyndham Clark will play as well, in efforts to reach the top spot in the FedExCup.
Mackay is confident that the tournament’s reputation and field will hold up for the fans, regardless of the forecast.
“Come on out anyway. It’s the best show on grass,” he said. “It’s the best people-watching anywhere I’ve ever been in my life. For that alone, come out, watch the golf, watch the people. Have an adult beverage, have a water. Whatever you want to do, but it’s the place to be.”