WM Phoenix Open
Rahmbo, Rickie and … Hayden Buckley? What it’s like to get a last-minute tee time with the big boys
Hayden Buckley, shown hitting a shot a the 2022 Sony Open, got into the WM Phoenix Open field when Webb Simpson withdrew.
SCOTTSDALE — The left breast of a PGA Tour player’s shirt is prime real estate for sponsors. Not quite as pricey as the hat, but the good players are all TV, all the time, which means their chests are on TV all the time. Rickie Fowler has Puma’s logo on his. Jon Rahm has Blue Yonder. The third member of their threesome at the WM Phoenix Open on Thursday had Calusa Pines on his.
Calusa Pines is not a brand at all. It’s a highly exclusive club on the gulf coast of Florida, ranked No. 74 on Golf Digest’s latest 100 Greatest. The club is not paying Hayden Buckley to wear its logo. He’s not a member there. But he loves the course, and he had a clothing deal fall through in December, so why not?
Buckley, as his shirt will tell you, looked a bit out of place at TPC Scottsdale alongside the World No. 1 and the man known around these parts as Big (You Know What) Rick. It makes sense, then, that he was never supposed to be there.
Buckley, a 25-year-old PGA Tour rookie, has had a nice start to his first season. He has three finishes of T-12 or better in 10 starts and has enjoyed playing with some of the guys he grew up watching. Matt Kuchar. Keegan Bradley. Buckley sits 47th in the FedEx Cup standings but entered this week as the second alternate. (It’s a strong field, and veterans get the edge over the rooks.) Harris English withdrew around noon on Wednesday to bump Buckley up one spot. His plan was to get to the course at the crack of dawn on Thursday and hope-without-hoping that someone tweaked something during their warmup. That’s what he did at last year’s Korn Ferry Tour LECOM Suncoast Classic. He got into the field that week at the 11th hour, won the tournament and now he’s on the big tour.
There would be no absurdly early alarm this time around, though, for his phone rang around 4 p.m. Wednesday afternoon. Webb Simpson had pulled out. He was in. Off the first tee, 12:24 p.m., with Rickie and Rahm. Just one problem.
“I hadn’t seen the whole course,” Buckley said after a two-over 73 on Thursday. “I played the Monday qualifier, didn’t get close. Then on Tuesday, I had gotten like four hours of sleep the night before. I was exhausted. So I decided to play the back nine in a practice round.”
The course was blocked off all Wednesday for the pro-am, which Buckley wasn’t in, which meant he was flying blind on the front. He managed an even-par 35 but played his next six holes in three over before stepping into the 16th-hole cauldron. Rahm played first. Buckley was next. He nearly hooped it and hearted the six-footer for birdie. A dream debut.
“It was fun. I felt pretty calm for the most part," Buckley said. "I played the U.S. Open last summer [he shot 69-82], so I got to experience it—not quite at the same level as those last three holes, but it’s not really anything different. You’re just playing with different players. My group today was a pretty solid group, to say the least. I felt the same way I did two months ago, sitting at home, playing golf.”
Buckley bogeyed the 17th but finished with a delicious wedge from 126 yards to two feet. As the Arizona sun set rapidly—play was halted at 6:23 local time, with leader Sahith Theegala still on the course with two holes to finish—Buckley couldn’t stop smiling despite a +2 by his name on the leader board. (Rahm scored a four-under 67 and Fowler shot even-par 71.)
“I loved it," he said. "I’ve been dying to play this tournament for so long. And out here, you can get a little bored because I usually tee off last, just with the category I’m in, and sometimes people just aren’t out there. They’re out watching these guys. But I felt like I belonged, and I don’t think it will be my last time with them.”