This week’s WM Phoenix Open is a home game for Jon Rahm, who lives in Scottsdale and went to nearby Arizona State.
But given the uniqueness of the event with its raucous crowds and stadium hole 16th, he knows it’s not everybody’s cup of tea.
“I think either you love it or hate it. There’s no in-between,” Rahm said Tuesday at his pre-tournament press conference. “With my case, I love it. I want to come every year. It ranks highly in my list but I know a few people that put it far down their list, so I don’t know what to say.”
The Phoenix Open is the second designated event on the PGA Tour. The tournament has a $20 million purse and the winner will take home $3.6 million. It’s attracted the strongest field in the event’s history.
There are 17 elevated events this season and in order to receive their full payouts from the Player Impact Program rankings, qualified golfers must play in 16 of them. Only Will Zalatoris and Adam Scott are taking this week off.
The atmosphere is only supercharged this week as Phoenix also hosts the Super Bowl on Sunday. When the PGA Tour added four more designated events — then called “elevated events” — to the 2023 schedule, the convergence of the events made it a logical choice.
“I think this was a designated event before we ever knew what they were going to be,” Rahm said. “No matter what the purse is, this tournament is going to be what it is. Very few sporting events in the world can comfortably happen in the same week as the Super Bowl and still have the impact that they have like this one.”
And he added the tournament, and its famous 16th hole, have only gotten crazier in his time playing here.
“Since I came first time eight years ago — I can’t believe it’s been eight years — it’s gotten exponentially louder and louder. It’s been a significant difference every year. I get it,” Rahm said. “On 16 last year when Justin Thomas chipped in, I didn’t want to see a Dasani water bottle coming straight for my head from the third story, but I did see it. So hopefully those are things they rein back on and keep it strictly about the game. But again, those are things people don’t want to deal with on a regular basis. It’s one week a year, so I think a lot of us welcome it for one week.”
While most pros have welcomed it for the week, there’s still no answer as to whether the event will receive designated status and the massive purse that comes with it next year.
After the designated events were worked into a schedule for the 2023 season, which was already largely set in stone, the 2024 schedule figures to undergo significant changes again.
As much as Rahm loves his hometown event — he figures the tournament would still “rival” the designated events even if it wasn’t one — he would like to see other tournaments be designated on a year-to-year basis.
“I do hope is that some other tournaments that want to put up the resources to become elevated events might get the chance,” he said. “That would be epic. I would love to see this rotating, not always being the same ones every year.”
The current schedule has clearly hurt some events more than others. Honda, a longtime sponsor of the Tour’s event in Palm Beach Gardens, announced last year it would no longer be sponsoring the Honda Classic after 2023. This year, the Honda is the only event in a five-week stretch that is not designated.
Meanwhile, last week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am continued a trend of weaker fields at one of the Tour’s premier courses, seeing just three top-20 players.
Rahm initially was publicly hesitant about the agreement by the PGA Tour’s top players to play a 20-event schedule, given his desire to play in Europe.
As for the number staying at 17 designated events, Rahm didn’t seem to have much of an opinion now, as long as the players got one thing.
“I think a lot of us want to have more time off in the fall,” he said. “As long as we get that, I think people will play more or less what needs to be done to be able to have that time off.”