Grayson Murray pumped his fist, tossed hit hat into the air and threw his ball into the grandstands.
It was two years ago and Murray had just made a hole-in-one on the challenging 17th hole on the Champion Course at PGA National, using a wedge from 151 yards, and the crowd was in an uproar.
Visions of the most famous party hole in golf? Not quite. But the 17th at Honda maybe is the closest thing to the rowdiest, loudest, most party-hardy hole on the PGA Tour, the 16th at the WM Phoenix Open.
“It’s almost impossible to replicate what they have there,” Daniel Berger said about the 16th hole at the TPC Scottsdale where the Phoenix Open is held.
“They do an amazing job at the Honda with the grandstands and the whole atmosphere, but because of the challenge it presents, the final four holes, the Bear Trap, it’s different.”
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And I’m sure they want to replicate all of it. Certainly not the scene from two weeks ago when Sam Ryder’s hole-in-one during the third round at the Phoenix Open from 124 yards resulted in something you will never see anywhere else on Tour. Beer, soda, water and every other kind of liquid refreshment filled the air before hundreds of cans and cups holding those drinks landed on the course, many on the green.
“Today was wild,” Brooks Koepka said that day following his round.
And it was repeated the next day when Carlos Ortiz holed out his tee shot from 178 yards.
Golfers agree, the 16th at the Phoenix Open is a unique experience that will not be cloned. The difficulty is not the hole, which typically requires a wedge or 9-iron over a mini-desert floor with no water, typically no wind and onto an expansive green. The biggest challenge is not falling into a prickly cactus on the walk from tee to green.
But it’s the coliseum-like feel from the enclosed stadium seating that sits more than 17,000 fans who are drinking, chanting, booing very loudly when a tee-shot misses the green and erupting when the ball comes close to the pin. And absolutely losing it when it finds the cup.
Golf etiquette is out the window on this hole. And don’t expect any response when raising those “QUIET” signs.
“It’s more like being at a football game for that one hole,” Denny McCarthy said. “We don’t get to see that very often so it’s fun to play.”
When it comes to everything inside the ropes (or the grandstands), there is no comparison to No. 17 at Honda. The hole is far more challenging with winds that can come from different directions and a shot that has to carry water most of the way to a postage-stamp-sized green angled from the tee box. Recently, the PGA Tour gave golfers some relief, eliminating the back tee box that required a 4- or 5-iron from about 190 yards.
Rickie Fowler plays a shot on the 17th hole during the first round of the 2022 Honda Classic at PGA National Resort And Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. (Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
“When you’re back there with a 5-iron, you’re just praying you get it on the green,” Rickie Fowler said.
Now, the tee box will play about 155 yards for two rounds, and 165 to 170 yards for the other two. That still can require a 7-iron.
All of which makes attempting to turn Honda’s No. 17 into a Phoenix No. 16 Light a bit tricky. Golfers like the interaction, to an extent. They like the stadium seating, which this year at Honda will be expanded around the tee box to a double-decker.
At Phoenix, they acknowledge and accept the cheers and jeers and some throw golf balls into the stands or even swag bags, and go out of their way to interact with the fans — for that one hole. Pat Perez raised his cap and took a bow as he was being booed for missing a putt two weeks ago.
“(No. 16) doesn’t ever get quiet,” said Michael Thompson, the 2013 Honda Classic champion. “At least 17 at Honda has a chance to kind of calm down and gets quiet.”
Andrew George, the Honda Classic tournament director, knows the event has to be mindful of the golfers when it comes to creating a more fan-friendly atmosphere on the hole.
“The fine line is making sure we’ve protected the player interest by moving the (stands) back a little bit, by recreating the tiering system on the seating (behind the tee box) to make sure those who are watching the golf have that opportunity, and those there for the social scene are tucked back a little behind the crowd,” George said.
“It’s constant improvement.”
That back tee box was eliminated when golfers determined it was too close to the hospitality suites.
“When you build an arena like that and try to create that same atmosphere as they have at Phoenix. … It shouldn’t be that way because it’s a hole that is so much more challenging and so much more demanding,” Billy Horschel said.
“No. 16 is super, super easy, 17 at Honda is a (bleeping) tough golf hole.”
Jack Nicklaus, who redesigned the Champion Course, believes more fan interaction is good for the sport. In fact, the Hall of Famer would like to see more of it.
“It’s worked in Phoenix,” Nicklaus said. “I wish the game of golf wasn’t so. … ‘Be quiet.’ From the start, if you just let people talk, no golfers would be bothered, they’d play and it would be like any other sport.
“When I was playing, I was concentrating on what I was doing and I never really heard the gallery anyway. If you’re focused on what you’re doing, it shouldn’t bother you. If you’re susceptible to listening to everything, it makes it difficult for you.”