Some of the biggest parties in the United States will happen this weekend for Super Bowl LIV, but out in Arizona the PGA Tour will throw a giant kegger of their own on the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale for the 2020 Waste Management Phoenix Open.
While TPC Scottsdale itself isn’t anything other than ordinary, the tournament is one of the few non-major golf events that breaks through into the sports mainstream. The event is behind the eight ball to draw any attention away from the biggest sporting event of the year, but it embraces it’s reputation as a wild party to make it relevant on a crowded sports weekend. It’s very self-aware of what it is, and uses it to create one of the most fun and hyped events on the PGA Tour.
As for gamblers, the event not only offers up the usual props to bet on but also features fun prop pairings with the Super Bowl. Here’s a rundown of everything there is to know about the 2020 Waste Management Phoenix Open before placing a single wager on it.
This event would have a lot more star power if it weren’t for the Saudis backing up a brinks truck of lucrative appearance fees to attract high profile golfers to the Kingdom. That deprived this week’s field in Scottsdale most of the best European players in the world along with Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed and Phil Mickelson.
Still, as one of the more popular, fun and well attended events on the schedule there is plenty of big named players in the field. Headlining the event are Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm. While Thomas has a bit of a reputation of being a prima-donna when he kicked out a drunk heckling fan at the 2018 Honda Classic, he embraces the raucous atmosphere of TPC Scottsdale. In addition, Jon Rahm is fresh off blowing a 54 hole lead at the Farmers Insurance Open and looks to bounce back in Scottsdale. Rahm went to nearby Arizona St, and it’s a good bet on Thursday and Friday he’ll throw on a commemorative #42 Pat Tillman jersey at the 16th to fire up the fans.
Other notables in the field include defending champion Rickie Fowler, two time winner Hideki Matsuyama, Matt Kuchar, Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth, Bryson DeChambeau (who will likely be a popular player to pick on at the 16th by the fans), Webb Simpson and former winner Gary Woodland. There will be plenty of options to choose from in the top tier of the betting sheets and DraftKings this weekend.
The Golf Course
The property of TPC Scottsdale holds two golf courses, both of which were co-designed by Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish. The commissioner of the PGA Tour in 1986 directed the two architects to build another golf resort for the TPC network that had the look and feel of TPC Sawgrass. Out of this endeavor gave rise to the Champions Course and the Stadium Course, with the latter being the site of the main event this weekend.
TPC Scottsdale is likely on the bucket list for more mainstream golf fans based solely on the insanity of the 16th hole alone. But the dirty little secret about TPC Scottsdale is, for the most part, it’s a bland, mediocre, cookie cutter golf course that plagues most other golf courses in the TPC network.
Normally I find lack of early round coverage frustrating because sometimes great holes on the front nine of a golf course don’t get the air time it deserves (bookmark this for next week’s AT&T Pro-Am at Pebble Beach). However, there’s very little that piques my interest about TPC Scottsdale as a viewer over the first fourteen holes. It suffers from a lot of the pitfalls that the South Course at Torrey Pines does as discussed last week – lots of similar looking Par 4’s with a fairway bunker near landing zone off the tee. There’s not many decisions to make off the tee, as there’s nothing the golf course offers over this stretch that compels anyone to hit anything other than driver on the Par 4’s and 5’s. Unlike the South Course at Torrey Pines, though, most guys should be able to get good contact on the golf ball if they find the rough after their tee shot to stuff the ball close on soft, receptive greens.
The golf course starts to get interesting at the 15th, a 553 yard Par 5 featuring an island green that’s reachable in two. While an island green seems like a staple at several TPC courses and is a bit gimmicky, it presents the first interesting feature and one of the few risk/reward opportunities on the golf course.
On the 15th tee-box, the golfers will begin to hear the madness reverberating from the grandstands of the 16th, but they’ll have to tune that out with a good drive to set up their approach. It’s also very important to card a birdie here if one wants to win the tournament. Rickie Fowler birdied it in the final round on his way to overtaking Branden Grace for the victory. Gary Woodland carded a birdie on the 15th in three out of four rounds on his way to win the tournament in 2018. Hideki Matsuyama birdied it six out of eight tries on his way to winning back to back in 2016 and 2017. And Brooks Koepka eagled this hole in the final round of the 2015 event to help him capture his first career win on the PGA Tour.
After that is the infamous Par 3 16th, which is one of the most nondescript holes played on the PGA Tour for 361 days of the year:
On it’s own, the hole is quite a stress-less endeavor. It plays as little as 115 yards and as much as 160 into a simple two-tiered green where four greenside bunkers present the only challenge. But when you surround the hole with a giant frat party attended by 20,000 drunks who’ll boo if you aren’t within 20 feet of the pin, it makes the tee shot a whole lot more nerve-wracking. Most players take it in good stride, but others allow the atmosphere to get them out of their comfort zone where they can hit some uncharacteristically ugly shots:
Out of all the places to hit a shank, 16 at Waste Management might be the worst. pic.twitter.com/XNmLG4QVAw
— Skratch (@Skratch) February 3, 2018
If you’re reading this article, you already know exactly what the 16th offers. So instead of regurgitating the same cliches and jokes about the 16th that’ll surely be featured on some slideshow on Bleacher Report or on Golf Channel, here’s a video from the guys at No Laying Up that accurately sums up the vibe this weekend:
For those who’d rather go to watch golf instead of take funnels of Miller Light from sunup to sundown, the place to be on the course is actually the next hole over at the short Par 4 17th. This is probably the best hole on the golf course in that it’s a high risk-high reward hole where tournaments have been both won and lost.
Pros have two options when they step to the tee at the downhill 332 yard 17th. They can either layup down the rightside of the fairway, past the centerline bunker and set up an easy approach into the large green. That’ll ensure at worst walking off the green with a par, as well as earn a few boos from those waking up from their early afternoon alcohol coma.
Or they could channel their inner Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy, pull out a three-wood or driver and attempt to drive the green. If they choose this option, not only do they run the risk of hooking their drive into the water left of the green, they also could hit it into the water behind the green should their adrenaline put a little more oomph into their strike, as poor Rickie Fowler found out in the final round while holding a two shot lead in 2016. Last year, however, he was the beneficiary of an unforced error on the 17th by Branden Grace, who overcooked his tee shot into the drink left of the green. That sealed the deal to give the win to Rickie.
The tournament wraps up at the 442 yard 18th, a dog-legged left Par 4 with water all the way down the left side of the hole (a common template for a finishing hole at TPC’s):
The hole is also heavily bunkered just off the fairway. To the right are a trilogy of fairway bunkers that are in the landing zone of all hitters long and short. To the left is a row of church pew bunkers that probably aren’t in play for anyone. It would take a very aggressive line to play a fade over the water towards the left side of the fairway to even reach it. They’re mostly just there as eye-candy. Still, with all the challenges presented off the tee it sets up drama should the tournament still not be decided heading down the stretch.
Looking for more action? Go here to learn How To Bet The Super Bowl.
Despite an overabundance of fairway and water hazards, TPC Scottsdale isn’t a tremendously difficult golf course. The winning score typically is in the mid to high teens with a cut line around Even or -1. Scoring can get a little tough if Scottsdale sees some cooler temperatures, rain or wind (like last year’s final round had). But the weather looks absolutely spectacular in Scottsdale this weekend. Brilliant sunshine will bathe the golf course all four days with temperatures in the low to mid 70’s over the first three days and approaching 80 degrees on Sunday. With no wind or rain in the forecast, it should be a birdie fest once again.
As far as what player attributes to value this weekend, here’s a data plot summary of the relative importance each skill has at TPC Scottsdale, as well as a historical strokes gained summary of the tournament:
From both these charts, there’s a greater emphasis placed on driving and putting this week. That’s not all that surprising and fairly common for most of the tournaments played on TPC golf courses on the PGA Tour, especially with the birdie fest this tournament likely will be. What’s interesting is that both driving distance and driving accuracy are valued more highly at TPC Scottsdale than the average PGA Tour golf course. That’s reflective of some of the most recent contenders at the tournament in the past few years. Bombers like Brooks Koepka, Bubba Watson and Gary Woodland have all had great success at TPC Scottsdale over the last five years, as well as some of the shorter and more accurate hitters like Webb Simpson, Matt Kuchar, and Chez Reavie. And then there’s the players who are more balanced drivers like Rickie Fowler, Hideki Matsuyama and Justin Thomas who historically play well in the tournament too.
But don’t look at either chart and conclude that iron play doesn’t matter. It absolutely matters, it just isn’t as contributing a factor in overall scoring as it is at other places. Some of the best ball strikers in the world lay claim as the most successful players at TPC Scottsdale, including most of the names listed in the last paragraph. As far as why it doesn’t have as much of an impact in overall scoring, it’s likely because TPC Scottsdale doesn’t feature very penal rough and have soft, receptive greens. The fairways and rough are also overseeded with rye grass as the bermuda remains dormant in the winter months. That’s a very similar setup that PGA West had a few weeks ago, which also featured relatively stress free approach shots for the players. Better ball strikers can gain an edge on the field by having pinpoint distance control to stuff approach shots close to the hole for great looks at birdie.
Lastly, the closest correlated golf courses on the PGA Tour to TPC Scottsdale in terms of similar skill sets include Silverado Golf Resort, Bay Hill, TPC Twin Cities, TPC Boston and Sheshan International Golf Club. Players in the field with great results on these types of golf courses include Emiliano Grillo, Adam Hadwin, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas, Tony Finau, Brandt Snedeker and Daniel Berger. That doesn’t mean you have to necessarily pick these players, but it does help identify the profile of player that would be successful in this tournament.