Heckling reaches new heights at Scottsdale’s 16th
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – They enter through the tunnel to the 16th hole like gladiators entering the Coliseum.
“They open the gates and here come the slaves,” says Gary McCord, who has had a ringside seat for years as CBS Sports’ anchor of the hole. “It’s like the old medieval taunting days.”
The par-3, 162-yard hole is unlike anything else in golf, a hole that last year became totally enclosed with skybox suites and handles 20,000 riotous fans. Everyone has his own sports analogy to describe it. Charley Hoffman compared it to playing one hole a year inside a football stadium, Nick Watney to standing at the foul line with a basketball game on the line.
“Forget the Road Hole at St. Andrews. This is the greatest hole in golf,” comedian George Lopez gushed with a straight face.
I don’t know about that, but this first-timer came away impressed with the level of fan enthusiasm (though it would be nice if a few more people actually paid attention. News flash: there’s a golf tournament going on below). It reminded me of the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass on steroids – and it was only Thursday. They chant. They cheer. They boo. Relentlessly.
Before each group teed off, a voice over a loudspeaker asked attendees in the SkyBox for “Quiet please!”
It was about as effective as telling shoppers not to run when the doors open at Wal-Mart on Black Friday. Yet to borrow a line from Bachman-Turner Overdive, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
“It was quite subdued for that hole,” said Justin Rose, who teed off early before the crowds thickened.
But he knows the fans will get rowdier. On Friday, hordes of business people will contrive excuses to miss work. Classes will be cut. On Saturday, madness will ensue. And this year, Sunday doesn’t bump up against the Super Bowl. Look out!
“It’s going to gently break us into the weekend,” Rose said.
Some players dig it and some dread it. They all think about it.
“Believe me, by No. 2 or 3, the fourth hole at the latest, you start thinking about it,” McCord said. “Not all the time, but it’s in the back of your mind.”
One player’s wife told me she locks her hands together and prays her husband makes contact.
Fans can be ruthless. They’ve chanted Supercuts for Hoffman’s long hair, sweater vest at Perry’s attire. When Rocco Mediate reached the 16th in 1999 with a three-shot lead, they welcomed him to the tee with, “You’re gonna choke.”
“A lot of people don’t come here because of that hole,” Perry said. “They won’t play here because they don’t want people yelling at them and stuff.”
But most players embrace it. They chuckle at the creativity of fans that do their homework ahead of time.
“I think they had a computer out and Googled my name,” said Perry, who was impressed when they serenaded him with the Western Kentucky fight song of his alma mater.
McCord, on the other hand, wondered if the full background check they seemingly conduct on players is a bit much.
“They know everything about you,” he said. “They know what type of dog food your dog doesn’t like. That’s frightening. That’s invading my personal space when they know my dog doesn’t like that tuna-chicken combination.”
That’s why most guys acknowledge the love, avoid confrontation and hightail it to No. 17.
Said Perry: “You definitely don’t want them on your bad side.”