The noise is at 16, but the nerves are at 17 at the WM Phoenix Open
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Sixteen gets the hype, and for good reason. It is, after all, the hypest hole on the PGA Tour -- a 150-odd yard par 3 transformed, by human engineering, into a cauldron of adrenaline. It’s the logo of the WM Phoenix Open, the reason the event has carved out a truly unique niche in the world of golf. But it is not, by any stretch, the best hole at TPC Scottsdale.
That title belongs to the par-4 17th, a 332-yard par 4 where eagles are possible but double bogeys loom uncomfortably close.
“It’s the best drivable par 4 on tour—maybe even the best we play [anywhere],” said Brooks Koepka, whose affinity for the plot of grass makes perfect sense. It’s where he holed a delicate chip last year to spur himself to a one-shot victory.
The way he played the hole that Sunday perfectly encapsulates the beauty of the hole, an excellent example of the type of risk-reward hole that provides such compelling viewing.
Given the altitude of Scottsdale and the firm conditions, it’s drive-able for virtually every player in the field. For the longer hitters, it’s a decision between driver and 3 wood. Anything pin-high and left of the green will tumble down into a water hazard; anything right of the green will careen well right and leave a slippery pitch to an elevated and crowned green. Leave the chip short and it’ll roll down to your feet. Catch it thin or fail to nip it and it’ll roll all the way over the green left.
The only way to actually hold the green from the tee is to run it up a narrow runway that borders uncomfortably close to the water hazard. But even that leaves a difficult putt, for the pin is typically tucked on the back portion of the green, which is bisected by a tournament-ruining bunker. Thursday’s pin was back left, Friday’s back right. Through two rounds, the scoring average was right around par, the birdies offset by the bogeys and doubles and one dreaded other.
“If you don't put it in the correct spot you're going to be in a lot of trouble,” Koepka said after making par on Friday. “It can be very difficult. I know, I mean, I didn't hit a good tee shot -- and that chip is still tough short of the green to any of those back pins, anything on the left side is difficult enough, ball seems to always run away. And even if you bail out off the tee it's not the easiest pitch going downhill running towards the water. I'm a big fan of that hole. I love it.”
Closing down the stretch of this most hectic tournament is never easy -- because of 16, yes, but that’s a wedge or 9-iron for these guys. And they’re all used to playing in front of crowds. This is the PGA Tour after all. And when there’s that much cacophony, it all sort of fades into white noise.
“With the music playing and all the people yelling, it just sounds like a dull roar in the background,” says Patrick Cantlay, making his first WMPO start this week.
But the 17th doesn’t rely on noise to manufacture difficult. It’s as tricky on a Wednesday in October as it is on Sunday of tournament week.
Xander Schauffele, who finished joint-second here last year and entered the weekend two shots behind leader Sahith Theegala.
“It’s a hole where if you sack up and hit a good shot, you can make it look pretty easy,” Schauffele says. “But if you don’t..."