SCOTTSDALE – What weather?
The mid-Friday morning vibe at the WM Phoenix Open reflected most days at TPC Scottsdale: blue skies, big crowds and some of the sport’s top golfers on the course.
It was a sharp contrast to what has defined much of this year’s tournament, climatic woes that include rain, hail, wind and even early morning frost on Friday. With some normalcy returned, competition was heating up. After Thursday’s round, Sahith Theegala shot a 6-under 65 to continue his standout play at TPC Scottsdale. On Friday morning, he was tied for the lead with Canadian Nick Taylor, who was wrapping up his first round and making a strong push.
Thursday was a challenge day for the Phoenix Open.
It got off to a normal start, as six of the 22 groups teed off on schedule. However, things quickly took a turn for the worse around noon, with heavy winds and relentless rain making the course’s conditions unplayable. Play was suspended at 12:32 p.m. – only one minute before back-to-back Phoenix Open Champion Scottie Scheffler’s tee time – and early on, the prospect of round one concluding on Thursday appeared bleak.
“There was a group of lads on the 6th hole, when it was raining,” Shane Lowry said. “I said,‘What are you guys doing out here? Surely you can find the closest bar and do something else.’ But, I mean, the rain was coming in sideways, they were standing there to watch us hit a 6-iron 160 yards, I was like,‘You should just go home, you know?’ It’s like one of those.
“Honestly, it was horrible, it was as tough of conditions as I can remember for a while.”
As rain continued to fall, officials kept pushing back a return to action, and many fans had eventually seen enough. Putting greens on multiple holes were almost entirely submerged and the rest of the course became extremely muddy. Predictably, the number of spectators continued to dwindle as the inclement weather persisted, and for good reason.
Finally, after nearly a three-and-a-half hour wait, the fans who braved the unfavorable conditions were rewarded, as play resumed at 4 p.m. Entering the break, Theegala sat atop the leaderboard at 5-under-par, with multiple opponents — including Lowry — close behind. Theegala, who came into Thursday ranked 22nd on the PGA Tour, remained in first place at the end of the day, finishing 6-under-par 71 with seven birdies.
“I played really well,” Theegala said. “It’s not often where kind of every part of the game feels, or not feels good. It’s been feeling good, but it actually kind of clicks during the course of the round. Usually it’s one or two things that kind of hold up the round, but it felt like through the bag I did something good with every club. It was a great feeling, I made the short putts when I needed to, obviously chipping in is always nice… I played great and that’s all I can do, really.”
Due to staggered tee times throughout the day, many groups did not finish the first round on Thursday.
Although the rain eventually subsided and the grounds crew worked tirelessly to successfully make the course playable again, the wet and muddy conditions – not to mention a lengthy delay – presented an added challenge to the players in round one. But for most golfers, like Lowry, persevering in less-than-ideal circumstances is nothing they haven’t done before.
“You ride it out,” Lowry said. “It’s one of those where, the older you get, the more you realize you don’t let it affect you. Just go in, chill out. I’m lucky, I have a couple of friends here with me this week. We went out to my car in the parking lot and we just hung there for about two hours, warmed up, because it was very cold. Yeah, you just get used to it as the years go on.”
Another unusual story took place much earlier in the day, involving a golfer who wasn’t even on the course. Lucas Glover, the 33nd-ranked player on the PGA Tour, wasn’t present for his 8:26 a.m. tee time. This wasn’t because he was intentionally dodging the tournament, but instead because he misread a text that had his tee time.
When Glover, still in his hotel room, received a call from a Phoenix Open official telling him he was supposed to tee off in one minute, it was already too late. He was replaced by alternate Ryo Hisatsune, who concluded the day with a 2-over-par 71.
“I’m kicking myself but laughing at myself at the same time,” Glover said in an interview with FOX 10 Phoenix.
The opening day of the People’s Open was anything but normal, and the chaos experienced on Thursday will likely not be matched for the rest of the weekend. The only other day in the tournament that shows rain is Saturday, reports the National Weather Service. However, even with the difficult circumstances, day one was still a success, as the many spectators who braved the weather were ultimately treated to some top-notch golf.
“I was surprised at how many fans were out here when it was raining sideways and blowing 20 (miles per hour), and freezing,” Theegala said. “It was cool to see all the support and people chanting my name and all that. It’s the best. I got a good sense of that last year when I came back after the run I made the first year, so to be back is always great.”