The Waste Management Phoenix Open has set attendance records each of the past four years, and with this year’s field and weather forecast, the event is hoping to keep that streak intact.
The Phoenix Open draws the largest crowds in golf, with an estimated 655,434 fans attending last year. With the forecast calling for sunny skies and temperatures around 80 degrees every day this week, one of the strongest fields in the history of the event and an impressive pro-am lineup, that mark could fall again.
“With the field, the crowd and the pro-am lineup, in my opinion we have the right ingredients for an amazing week,” chairman Carlos Sugich told azcentral.com.
“I would love to break the record again, but to be honest we already have the largest tournament in the world and we are really focused on the experience for fans. We want people to enjoy the new amenities and everything that the tournament has to offer, no matter how many fans we have. At the end of the day, the experience is what it’s all about.”
Last year’s event also set a single-day record of 204,906 fans for the third round and there was talk around the event Monday that this Saturday’s attendance could approach 250,000.
That might depend on who is in contention, and this year’s field has plenty of big names to offer. It includes four of the top five in the world rankings, five of the top 10 and 11 of the top 25.
Leading the way is former Arizona State standout Jon Rahm, who has climbed to No. 2 in the world rankings after winning two of his last four events worldwide and finishing second in another.
Add in Jordan Spieth (3), Justin Thomas (4), two-time defending champion Hideki Matsuyama (5), Rickie Fowler (7), two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson and fan favorite Phil Mickelson, who has won this event three times, and there is plenty of drawing power.
“We are very proud of the field,” Sugich said. “I think it is always pretty good, but this is one of the best we’ve had with top-10 players and the local guys. It is one of the strongest fields on the PGA Tour.”
What helps in drawing strong fields is the tour’s youth movement. Many of the top-ranked players in the world currently are in their 20s or early 30s and they are the ones who tend to embrace the raucous atmosphere at TPC Scottsdale.
“Yeah, they do it well here,” Spieth, 24, said during last year’s event. “I mean, the golf course is just designed for the ability to do the grandstands the way they are, and it’s unlike anything else that we play in.
Wednesday’s Annexus Pro-Am also promises to be a hit with celebrities including Michael Phelps, Aaron Rodgers, John Elway, Larry Fitzgerald, Bruce Arians, Patrick Peterson, Emmitt Smith, Archie Bradley, Bode Miller and Tim Brown.
While the event has plenty of local drawing power, Sugich said it also has established international appeal.
“I think we have reached a real tipping point where the tournament, and the 16th hole in particular, have become a bucket list item for people around the country, and really all over the world,” Sugich said.
“They see on TV the excitement that it generates, and at the same time the local community recognizes what the tournament has done for them, too. It’s a great combination and people want to be part of it.”
The short game
- John Oda, a three-time All-American from UNLV who turned pro last year after his junior season, shot a 7-under 65 to take top honors in the Monday qualifier at McCormick Ranch Golf Club. Richard T. Lee of Chandler, Eddie Olson of Aptos, Calif., and tour pro Cameron Tringale tied for second at 66 and two of them will make it into the field after a sudden-death playoff Tuesday. Lee turned pro in 2007 at age 16 after playing in the U.S. Open, which made him the second-youngest golfer to qualify for that major championship.
- Former University of Arizona standout and U.S. Amateur champion Ricky Barnes of Scottsdale received the last of five sponsor exemptions for this event. Web.com Tour graduates Tom Lovelady and Wyndham Clark also received exemptions. Previous exemptions went to 2010 Open winner Hunter Mahan and European Tour player Julian Suri.
- The event already is on a record-setting pace as 18,514 fans turned out Monday under sunny skies and a record-high temperature of 83. Last year, 11,734 fans attended on Monday.