SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (WDRB) -- After spending a couple of days following Louisville native Justin Thomas the Waste Management Phoenix Open, his first tour event since winning back-to-back tournaments in Hawaii, I've put together some random thoughts on the experience:
1. These Guys are Good
Sure that's how the tour saying goes, and while I know this as a player and fan of the game, I'm always given a stunning reminder of just how good when I see the players up close. It's the sound the ball makes coming off their club. It's shot after shot striped in a perfect parabola on the range. It's being able to escape trouble after a rare shot goes awry. Daniel Summerhays (maybe not a household name) hit perhaps the best shot I saw there. He was about 235 yards out on the par-five 15th from the right rough with trees blocking him ... or so I thought. Rather than punching out or laying up, he blew his shot over the trees and onto a green nearly surrounded by water. And that kind of stuff happens all the time, but it's still fairly stunning to see it in person.
2. Justin Thomas is Very Good and Getting Better
The 23-year-old St. Xavier graduate has proven that with his play this season, winning three of his first five starts. It earned him a featured afternoon pairing status with Phil Mickelson, popular wherever he plays but especially so here since he went to Arizona State and is a three-time winner of the event.
Thomas struggled through his first 12 holes Thursday, narrowly missing several makeable putts and skulling a shot out of a bunker for a bogey. He sat at +1 but held the round together, making three birdies in the final six holes to finish with a two-under 69. He told me afterward that he wouldn't have been able to do that a year ago, a sign of his increased patience and maturing game. It helps that he hits it as high and as far as anyone out here, making it so that he can access pins that many others cannot. Of course as I write this, the Goshen native is struggling through round two and may not make the cut. But he is still well on his way to a monster season and potentially a career that might possibly match his outsized goals. He doesn't reveal those goals publicly, but made mention of the Hall of Fame when discussing it Wednesday.
3. Phoenix Knows How to Throw a Party ... I Mean Golf Tournament
It is one of the oldest and most popular tournaments on tour and with good reason. The course is immaculate, a sea of green in an otherwise brown landscape. It's very well-run and organized by the local Thunderbirds, a non-profit group that runs special events in the area, raises a ton of money for various causes, holds concerts every night and is even considered the greenest tournament on the tour schedule thanks to the title sponsor, Waste Management. My sports cohorts in the WDRB office can tell you what a fan I am of recycling ... all right maybe a little obsessive. Plus the tournament has one of the signature holes in all the game, the stadium 16th, a par three with stands that holds about 30,000 people who make it an all-day party with a little golf thrown in. When Thomas nearly aced the hole on Thursday, it wasn't quite as loud as Papa John's when Lamar Jackson got loose, but not far off.
It's the highest-attended tournament on tour all year. Wednesday drew 77,000 people, and Thursday brought out another 110,000. Not too shabby.
You can scroll through a slideshow of pictures from the tournament above.
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