Word spread quickly across the moundings and among the hordes at
the TPC of Scottsdale. Midway through the final round of the
Phoenix Open, rumor raged rampant. Was the buzz that Grant Waite
was on his way to a 59? Fat chance. "It all happened in
anonymity," said Waite of his failed attempt to join Al
Geiberger and Chip Beck as the only players in Tour history to
break 60. "And it was probably better--no screaming, no yelling,
no crowds moving around. There were maybe 300 people watching."
And a measly 300 spectators were not much of a crowd at this
event, where, as Waite two-putted his final green (at the 9th
hole because he started his round on the back nine), the talk
among the tens of thousands gathered everywhere else was that
Hootie and the Blowfish and Huey Lewis would be onstage that
night at the Bird's Nest.
On the biggest sports weekend in the history of Phoenix,
hundreds of millions might have watched the Super Bowl, but
beforehand, Phoenicians by the hundreds of thousands came to the
golf tournament to party. The party locus is the Michelob Bird's
Nest. Unlike the tournament it perches beside, the Nest, a
fixture at this event for 10 years, has a title sponsor. It's an
enormous tent (capacity: an estimated 10,000), carpeted in
flattened beer cans--mobility is restricted due to
overpopulation, so empties drop to the ground yet don't
interfere with the dancing, drinking and flirting that are the
main business of the day and most of the night.
The Phoenix Open has become a vehicle for the gathering and
mingling of large numbers of people--last Saturday 156,875 was
the number that slid off the Thunderbirds' slide rule--with the
golf tournament serving as the floor-show matinee. From six to
midnight the Nest is open to anyone in town who's willing to pay
the $6 cover. Mark Calcavecchia met his wife at this event.
Remembers Sheryl, "I didn't care a thing about golf, but my
girlfriend said that there were tons of guys out there."
Though there is little direct correlation between attendance and
the quality of the competition, this year the golf provided good
value for the entertainment dollar. The gallery had in Mickelson
a hometown hero it could pop a lung cheering for, and in Leonard
an opponent it could unsettle by rooting against. Leonard said
afterward that he gained an appreciation for what the visiting
side at the Ryder Cup must endure. "I was really hoping that
nobody would ask me about this, but on the last three holes the
crowd was ... distracting--that's about as nice as I can put it."
Leonard's view, though understandable, is not universal. Most
players view this tournament as exciting, energizing and
refreshingly different, and because all want to experience the
roars that engulfed Mickelson on Saturday, the general attitude
toward the Phoenix revelers is this: Party on.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK The players at the Bird's Nest don't bogey, they boogie. [People dancing and man playing guitar]