SCOTTSDALE – Despite the uncharacteristically gloomy, gray weather, the WM Phoenix Open kicked off Tuesday with charity events and a practice round for the PGA Tour pros.
As part of Ford Free Days, an Arizona Ford Dealers promotion, fans could access TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium Course free of charge to watch their favorite golfers strike practice shots ahead of Thursday’s opening round of the four-day tournament.
But talk of the inclement weather that may put a damper on the rest of the week dominated conversation. Rain showers are expected every day this week in the Valley, but PGA Tour officials are prepared. Every Tour event has an on-site meteorologist, and this week Kyle Koval is at the TPC Scottsdale to help predict the weather.
Koval was optimistic that the event might miss the worst of the weather, especially later in the week.
“I wouldn’t say it’s doom and gloom by any means,” Koval said. “Our highest chance of rain would be (Tuesday night). I think as we get later in the week into the weekend, we can start to dry out but also cool down. So frost could develop by Saturday into Sunday.”
As of now, monitoring lightning is the main concern for the safety of the fans, golfers and caddies.
“Every case is different, depending on speed and proximity,” Koval said. “We just want to make sure we give enough time to get spectators off the golf course, as well as the golfers and the caddies and whatnot.”
As the start of the tournament is set for Thursday, Bud Cauley and Justin Thomas, who both played at the University of Alabama, were highlighted ahead of the tournament.
Cauley is making his first appearance at the WM Phoenix Open in just more than 10 years since he last played at TPC Scottsdale. After recovering from injuries suffered in a car accident in 2018 and dealing with other injuries, he is making his first start anywhere on Tour since 2020.
“I’ve really tried to just improve a little bit every day. When I started hitting balls in September, that was just kind of my goal,” Cauley said. “I feel very prepared. I’ve had enough time to practice and get ready. I think the newness of it will kind of wear off, and I’ll be able to just focus on the golf.”
Even with the four-year hiatus from the sport, Cauley believes his game hasn’t changed much and is excited to return on the Tour.
“I think it’s pretty similar. I had some time to work on some things that I’d been wanting to change a little bit, even when I was playing,” Cauley said.
Thomas, his fellow Alabama product, shares Cauley’s excitement about his friend’s return to the Tour.
“I’m so, so excited Bud is back. I’m really happy and proud of him because I know he’s had a lot of time and thinking of, ‘Is this going to ever get fixed? Is it going to be cured? Am I going to play golf again?’” Thomas said. “I know how good Bud is, and I know his raw talent. I just wanted to keep him positive and keep telling him because, my thing I always said is, it’s going to work out”
Thomas, who is one of the premier names in golf, has had four top-10 finishes in the past five years at TPC Scottsdale and is looking to close the deal on the tournament this year.
“I haven’t had a good Sunday when I’ve been in contention,” Thomas said. “I’ve back-doored a couple top fives. I think this is a place where, if you have a hot week – I feel like for me, the two keys are driving it well and putting it well. I think if I drive it well, I should make very, very, very few bogeys, and then if you’re putting it well, you can just make so many birdies.”
Thomas’ success at the WM Phoenix Open makes his love for the course no surprise. He credits everyone involved for making the week in Scottsdale a success every year, even with the raucous 16th hole testing the nerve of the game’s best players.
“It’s very unique. I think it’s great that there’s one a year because they do it right,” he said. “I think people underestimate that when you have 20,000 people in one place (at 16), when there’s a lot of constant noise, it just is almost like a white noise sound.
“I always enjoy the banter and trying to hit it close and trying to make a birdie. They ain’t scared to boo you, no matter who you are.”
Tuesday ended with the wives of the Tour golfers competing in a friendly nine-hole competition for charity, where the Tour husbands serve as the caddies in the PGA Tour Wives Association Classic.
Despite atypical weather conditions, fans and golfers are excited to be guests at the biggest party in golf.
“Well, you pack some sweaters,” said Luke Donald, the captain of Team Europe in the Ryder Cup, chuckling. “It’s going to be cooler, (so) you’re going to have to do a little more work on the range.”
On Tuesday, the “People’s Open” started a packed day with the R.S. Hoyt Jr. Family Foundation Dream Day Activities, hosted by PING. The event, geared toward fourth, fifth and sixth graders, featured a trick-shot show and a junior golf clinic on the driving range. Following the jubilee, former Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Arizona Diamondbacks pitchers Zac Gallen and Brandon Pfaadt spoke to the children.
The San Tan Ford Special Olympics Putting Challenge took center stage next with celebrities, Arizona athletes and business leaders competing in a friendly putting competition. Gallen, Pfaadt and blogger Sam “Riggs” Bozoian were among the notable attendees.