photo credit: AZ Central
The Phoenix Open was first played in 1932 and ran until 1935 when it was discontinued. And it might have remained that way if not for the Phoenix civic group known as The Thunderbirds and especially Bob Goldwater, Sr. Goldwater convinced his other Thunderbirds to help organize and run the tournament, and in 1939 the Phoenix Open was reborn as a new Thunderbirds-affiliated event. The tournament has been contested every year since, except for 1943 when wartime rationing made playing the tournament impossible. The name has changed several times throughout its history, from the Phoenix Open to the Western Open, Arizona Open, the Ben Hogan Invitational and others, but always remained its affiliation with the Thunderbirds civic group. It is now known as the Waste Management Phoenix Open for sponsorship reasons.
In 1987, TPC Scottsdale became the home of the Phoenix Open. Using the innovative Stadium Course, the Phoenix Open provides the most fan-friendly tournament in golf. The event now routinely has weekly attendance rates of over half a million spectators. Famously, the course is home the 16th hole dubbed “the Coliseum”. This par-3 is fully surrounded by grandstands that can seat more than 20,000 spectators. Tiger Woods famously scored a hole-in-one on the 16th in 1997 to cause the spectators to explode in cheers. The fans are also known for booing any shot that doesn’t make it to the green, making them a hard audience to please.
The Thunderbirds are a civic group of Phoenix citizens limited to only 55 active members. By growing the Phoenix Open over the past 70+ years, the Thunderbirds have raised millions of dollars to go towards their charitable works. Chief among these is their support of the Special Olympics. The Thunderbirds remain a premier sponsor the the Special Olympics Summer Games and support these special athletes as they strive toward their goals. In addition, the Thunderbirds also provide money to multiple Boys and Girls Clubs in the greater Phoenix area.
The long history of the tournament is filled with some of the game’s greatest golfers. Four men hold the record for most Phoenix Open Wins: Arnold Palmer (1961, 1962, 1963), Gene Littler (1955, 1959, 1969), Mark Calcavecchia (1989, 1992, 2001) and Phil Mickelson (1996, 2005, 2013). Mickelson and Calcavecchia share the joint lowest scores at -28.
Hideki Matsuyama is the two-time defending champion. Hailing from Sendai, Japan, Matsuyama earned his spot on the PGA Tour in 2014 based on his earnings as a non-member in 2013, his first year as a professional. In 2014, he would win his first PGA Tour event and his consistency resulted in a top-30 finish in the FedEx Cup standings. In 2015, Matsuyama came close to his first Waste Management Phoenix Open when he finished in a three-way tie for second, one stroke behind champion Brooks Koepka. Matsuyama would continue that consistency into 2016 when he would win his first Waste Management Phoenix Open with a score of -14. However, Matsuyama had to do it the hard way by beating Rickie Fowler in a playoff. In 2017, with an even lower score of -17, Matsuyama again faced a playoff to win the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He would prevail again, this time against Webb Simpson. Matsuyama enters the 2018 tournament ranked fifth in the world and attempting to be the first back-to-back-to-back champion since Arnold Palmer in the early 1960s.