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.