FBR Open's success is mind-boggling - East Valley Tribune: Sports

FBR Open's success is mind-boggling

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Posted: Thursday, February 9, 2006 12:56 am | Updated: 4:05 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Final thoughts on the FBR Open, where rookie J.B. Holmes dazzled a record 537,000 fans on his way to replacing Retief Goosen (2001) as the quickest player to earn $1 million (four events vs. five events) in PGA Tour history:

Prosperity is easy to overlook. Sometimes, things go so well we don’t stop and take time to smell the roses.

But what has happened to the Tour’s most well-attended event in the past five years is a mind-boggling success story. For the record, more than 2.6 million fans have attended the event at the TPC of Scottsdale during that span — without incident!

That’s right, no one has tossed an orange, nobody has brought a firearm on the property, and the Birds Nest has been well-behaved. And the logistics of moving people in and out of the tournament has, if anything, only gotten better.

Are we witnessing the tournament’s “Golden Years’’ at the TPC? Or is golf’s largest party only going to grow in the future?

Mike Haenel, the 2006 tournament director for the Phoenix Thunderbirds, the civic group that runs the FBR Open, had this prediction.

“Bigger and better,’’ Haenel said when asked what lies ahead. “In fact, (2007 tournament director) Pat McGinley already is thinking of ways to increase attendance for next year.’’

Haenel said he looked around Saturday, when a record 168,000 fans were swarming the TPC, and concluded the course can handle even larger crowds.

“The TPC, the way it was designed with stadium-styled mounding, is the beauty of the event,’’ he said. “It might be the only golf course on Tour where everybody is guaranteed a good seat.

“Seriously, I think it’s possible that someday we’ll get up to 200,000 fans attending for a single day, and possibly as many as 600,000 or more for the week.’’


Holmes is an interesting character, a small-town boy from Kentucky who along with another rookie, Bubba Watson, are redefining the term “long drive.’’ Who knows? P, perhaps golf writers will soon dub them “Sherlock” and “Dr. Watson.”

But of the two bombers, the 23-year-old Holmes looks like the one with the all-around game. Remember, despite hitting almost every drive more than 300 yards for the week (323-yard average), Holmes made a football field of par-saving putts, with only four bogeys for the week.

That’s why it says here Holmes will be your rookie of the year, and don’t be surprised if he adds a ‘W’ or two to what he’s already done at the FBR Open. After all, this guy looks meteoric after jumping from No. 464 in the world rankings a week ago to No. 77 this week. (It’s got to be a record!) And upon further review, he actually set another milestone last week, becoming the first rookie ever to win the FBR/Phoenix Open in its 71-year history.


Nice call by the Thunderbirds in giving Camilo Villegas a sponsor’s exemption. The colorful rookie in the bright, tight pants finished tied for second, a distant seven strokes behind Holmes.

“Camilo’s got charisma, and the fans loved him, especially the women,’’ Haenel said. “He even went to the Birds Nest one night and had a ball.

“But what’s really sweet for us is, he’ll be back. That sponsor’s exemption we gave him will open some doors down the road, no doubt.’’

When the reshuffle comes at the end of the West Coast Swing, the 24-year-old from Colombia is sure to draw a better number. And like the aforementioned rookies, Villegas is power-packed, averaging 313 yards per drive at the FBR Open.


Phil Mickelson fell short of defending his FBR Open title, but acted like a champion all week, as no one signed more autographs or interacted with the fans like Lefty.

While Mickelson finished in a tie for seventh, earning $162,066, his caddie, Jim “Bones’’ Mackay got a little bonus for his efforts last week.

Mackay, who lives in Scottsdale, was a proud father on Monday.

His wife, Jennifer, gave birth at Scottsdale Healthcare Shea hospital to a baby girl, Emma, who weighed in at 8 pounds, 12 ounces.


John Daly’s early exit from the FBR Open last Friday drew a lot of criticism that was, from our point of view, justified. In fact, a fine by the PGA Tour would seem in order, except why punish a guy who already is down following his wife’s recent incarceration over a money-laundering charge?

Bob Verdi of Golf World, one of the few who actually talked with J.D. last week, pointed out: “In their quest for excellence, most golfers avoid distractions. John Daly collects them.’’

But this line by Davis Love III spoke volumes: “It’s always something with John. He takes care of everybody else better than he takes care of himself.’’


Haenel said because of the record crowds and record corporate sponsorship, the FBR Open will top its record donation to local charities, which came last year when the Thunderbirds doled out $5.8 million.

“I’m sure we’ll top $6 million, and maybe even establish a Tour record,’’ said Haenel in reference to the $6.1 million raised last year at the EDS Byron Nelson Classic by the Salesmanship Club of Dallas.

“It’s probably going to take a few months to sort out the numbers, but I’m still pinching myself how good this one turned out.’’

Chances are the economic impact on the East Valley, estimated at $200 million annually, also will see an increase when all is said and done.


Most people seem to have accepted the name change from Phoenix Open to FBR Open. Still there’s a noisy minority that after three tournaments doesn’t get it, and never will.

OK, for the hundredth time, it’s Friedman, Billings and Ramsey, an East Coast banking firm that is in its third year of a five-year contract reportedly worth $30 million.

While we don’t agree with the criticism, why not a compromise like FBR-Phoenix Open? It would alleviate the constant references to FBR/Phoenix Open, as it’s the only way to accurately portray the previous 68 years of the tournament. And, it still would have FBR up front. (Just a suggestion.)


Asked what his most lasting impression of this year’s FBR Open would be, if he had to choose just one, Haenel never wavered: “Bill Murray.’’

In every way, the comedian/actor known for “Caddyshack’’ was the perfect fit for the Wednesday pro-am and subsequent trip to the Birds Nest, and certainly shared center stage with Holmes.

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