This hole and the way they do it is just good for golf. The crowds go wild! In a sport where proper and queit is the deal…
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Like green flags at a racetrack, the birdie putts of Josh Teater and Martin Flores dropped on the 15th hole Friday, signaling to their caddies that the race was on.
After Teater and Flores struck their tee shots at No. 16, their caddies broke into a sprint, high-stepping around cactuses and other desert flora with their employers’ 40-pound golf bags bumping against their backsides and the raucous cheers of a few thousand fans ringing in their ears.
It was just another tournament round at the Phoenix Open, a PGA Tour stop that decorum routinely skips. Augusta National Golf Club has Amen Corner; TPC Scottsdale has Fraternity Row, the choker chain of humanity that wraps around No. 16, a 162-yard par 3, and offers fans at each end a bonus view of either the 15th green or the 17th tee.
John Rollins, a three-time tour winner who was tied for eighth after 36 holes, said, “It’s the most nerve-racking short iron you’ll ever hit.”
No. 16 has five bunkers, but the real hazard takes the form of five rows of bleachers replete with beer vendors and organized agitators, and 177 skyboxes from which it occasionally rains gin and tonics.
“It reminds me of when I go to Fenway Park,” said Keegan Bradley, a Red Sox fan who played his way into contention with a second-round 63. “There’s always like a murmur. There’s always a little ambient noise.”
On Friday, Billy Horschel, a University of Florida alumnus, backed off his tee shot when a voice, rising above the cocktail party din, asked if he had met his wife, Brittany, “at a U.F. football game or a frat party.”
When Rickie Fowler came to the hole later in the day, two men held up white boards. The first, referring to Fowler’s sister, read, “Is Taylor single?” The second read, “If not, are you single?”
During lulls between groups, the left-side bleacher creatures turned their attention to women searching for open seats, holding up numbers to rate their attractiveness. Some sang a few bars of “Happy Birthday to You,” raised their beers in the direction of the celebrator and chanted: “Chug! Chug! Chug!”
Miss the green and you’re a deaf man walking. Teater, who is from Lexington, Ky., likened it to heaving an air ball from the foul line during a road game at Rupp Arena, home court of the University of Kentucky basketball team.
“Last year I struggled on the hole, and I really got booed,” Teater said.
The spectacle is not everyone’s scene. “Some of the things that are said are pretty crude,” said Jeff Maggert, 48, a father of five. “You expect that at an N.F.L. game, not a golf tournament.”
Some players’ strategy on the hole is transparent. Robert Garrigus threw hard candies into the crowd. Ricky Barnes and Brendan Steele, who represent Oakley, dug sunglasses out of their bags and tossed them to fans.
“You kind of get them on your side a little bit,” Steele said.
Jock Holliman, a longtime marshal at No. 16, regards it as the hole Phil Mickelson built. Mickelson, who starred at nearby Arizona State, made the cut as an amateur in 1991, four years after the tournament moved to TPC Scottsdale from Phoenix Country Club. He has won it twice since turning pro in 1992 and took a four-stroke lead into this weekend.
“This town just loves Phil Mickelson,” Holliman said, adding, “Phil brings more intensity to this tee box than any player.” He quickly added, “Well, other than Tiger Woods.”
In 1997, Woods took his 9-iron and made a hole in one on the 16th, igniting a roar that roused Garrigus, then a 19-year-old dreamer behind the tee box for Woods’s swing.
“I was standing two people behind the ropes,” Garrigus said, “and, I don’t know, I might have been the first guy to throw a beer.” He added: “That was pretty cool. That made me — if I didn’t want to be a professional golfer right there, I wasn’t going to be one.”
Watching from his home in Minneapolis, Mike Leonard was spurred by Woods’s shot to plan his first visit to the tournament. He has come every year since 2000, bringing notes on all the players in the 132-man field. If the 16th hole has a conductor, it is Leonard.
He had staked out his spot in the bleachers by 7:30 a.m. Friday, avoiding the hourlong lines that form later. Soon he was leading chants of “Sexy Pants” for the sharp-dressing Canadian Graham DeLaet.
With the arrival of Teater, Flores and Hank Kuehne, some fans placed bets expecting to see the golfing equivalent of the Milwaukee Brewers’ bratwurst races.
On Thursday, Charles Gibson, who works for Teater, raced Flores’s caddie, Dan Gadberry. Gibson fell behind, and with Teater’s permission, dropped the bag several yards from the finish before sliding headfirst onto the green in a futile attempt to win. The race was caught on video and became a highlight on ESPN.
“I was pretty surprised,” said Gibson, who was on Teater’s bag last week, when he was a runner-up at the Farmers Insurance Open. “I got more texts about the caddie race than I did when we got second.” He added: “We wanted to do it again, but it’s not something you can plan. A lot of it is based on how your player’s playing.”
On Friday, Gadberry and Gibson were joined by Kuehne’s caddie, Scott Whritner, who arrived at the green first, to thunderous applause.
One year, Garrigus said, he tossed his ball into the crowd after putting out on 16. “They threw it back,” he said, adding: “It’s a great hole. It’s what this tournament is about. That’s our little Super Bowl in there, so to speak, and it’s just fun.”