Why 2023 WM Phoenix Open will be the biggest – and richest – yet
The WM Phoenix Open is the fifth oldest tournament on the PGA Tour. In 2023, it will celebrate its 88th playing and 36th time at TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium course.
This year will also mark the biggest, most high profile, most star-studded rendition of what has become the “Greenest Show on Grass.”
In an effort to stave off the upstart LIV Golf League, which has been pilfering some of the top names in the game for the last nine months, the PGA Tour has ramped up the prize money in a big way. The Phoenix Open had a purse of $9 million in 2022. It’s more than double that in 2023.
Here’s a closer look at some of reasons why 2023 will be the biggest, loudest and perhaps most interesting Phoenix Open ever.
Big boost in prize money
The Phoenix Open was named one of four “designated” events in 2023, which bumped the total purse from $9 million in 2022 to $20 million this time around.
The Sentry Tournament of Champions, also a designated event, featured a $15 million purse. The Phoenix Open is the first $20 million tournament in 2023 and the first of consecutive events at $20 million, as the Tour goes to the Genesis Invitational in Los Angeles the following week.
A $20 million purse, of course, means a big bump in the winner’s check, too. Scottie Scheffler banked $1,476,000 last year for his first career PGA Tour win. This year’s champ will earn $3,600,000.
Whether the Phoenix Open remains an elevated event remains to be seen.
“I would tell you that we are honored and humbled to be selected designated this year,” 2023 tournament chairman Pat Williams said. “This is the first year the Tour has done this and our hope would obviously be to execute this year and in a way that the Tour will give us the same honor the following year.
“You’ve got probably every other tournament on Tour raising their hand to want to be designated as well. So we would love it. But you know what? That’s the Tour’s choice.”
Best field ever?
With the bump in pay brings a boost in big-name star power.
Adam Scott and Will Zalatoris won’t be there, but the rest of the top golfers in the world (except for Cameron Smith; more on him in a minute) are coming to TPC Scottsdale.
The new emphasis on gathering all the best players more often (i.e., not just at the majors) isn’t foolproof. Golfers are allowed to skip one of the designated events, and that’s what Scott is doing. But for golf fans, they’ll get a feast watching nine of the top 10 in the world, headlined by No. 1 Rory McIlroy, No. 2 Scottie Scheffler, No. 3 Jon Rahm and No. 5 Patrick Cantlay.
The No. 4-ranked Smith, now a member of the LIV Golf League, isn’t coming to Scottsdale. He was among those suspended by the PGA Tour for joining the upstart league. He previously played the event five times, last making the cut in 2019.
Phil Mickelson won’t be there either, but not because his world ranking has sunk to 254. Lefty is also a member of the LIV Golf League. But even before joining the breakaway circuit, the three-time Phoenix Open winner had already stopped coming. His last appearance was in 2018 for a record 30th time.
Other notable LIV golfers not coming: two-time tournament champ Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia and Pat Perez.
LIV golfers are still eligible for the four majors as each of them have their own governing body and rules. But PGA Tour events, including the richest event on the circuit, the Players Championship, will not allow LIV golfers to compete.
This year, field is bigger than normal
The Phoenix Open is traditionally 132 golfers and barring any frost delays, there’s just enough sunlight in early February to complete the first two rounds.
In 2023, however, the field will be expanded to 136 so tournament director Pat Williams and company are prepared for the first and second rounds to spill over to the following day, if necessary, and if that happens, the cut won’t be made until Saturday morning.
It’s not ideal but will allow for an expanded field, something the PGA Tour wants due to the designated event status the tournament will have in 2023.
Sponsor exemptions all went to pros
The Phoenix Open is similar to many other PGA Tour events in that it likes to hand out a couple of its sponsor exemptions to up-and-coming amateurs. In 2015, Jon Rahm, a senior at Arizona State, got in on a sponsor invite — and went on to tie for fifth. A year ago, the Thunderbirds invited another Sun Devils golfer, freshman Preston Summerhays.
In 2023, however, no amateurs received invitations.
“In the past, our tournament has always, not every year, but made it a priority to look at amateurs, where it made sense, to give an exemption,” Williams said. “We have a really neat history of giving exemptions to amateurs who have had gone on to win here or have had a great career here at our tournament.
“Because our tournament is designated and knowing that amateurs can’t collect any of the money that is part of the purse we felt this year, the first year as a designated tournament … that we might just look at giving the exemptions to Tour players who can take advantage of the larger purse and make money.”
The five pros who received the 2023 sponsor invitations are Charley Hoffman, two-time tournament winner J.B. Holmes, Taylor Montgomery, Davis Thompson and Ricky Barnes.
No major changes to course, but that doesn't mean nothing is new
TPC Scottsdale, designed by Jay Morrish and Tom Weiskopf in 1986 and redesigned by Weiskopf in 2014, is a par 71 with total yardage at 7,261.
The golf course begins its transformation to a tournament venue in October and the work goes right on up to tournament week.
Fans will notice a few changes, the first being when they first arrive.
“We’re preparing for the 2024 DraftKings sportsbook that is under construction right now and so the entry is going to be a new, temporary entry that next year will evolve into permanent in the same location," Williams said. "But we’ve got a new entry, we’ve got a new clock tower that’s going right at the entry that’s going to be kind of a big landmark where people will know exactly where the entry is.
“The fan zone is in the same location but we’ve spent significant money to create just a better experience for the fans. It’s got more landscaping, it’s got more shade it’s got a new structure called the Goldwater grill. It’s going to have two video boards. Fan zone is not an area where you can view live golf so we put video boards up so people can see action of the golf.
“The 16th hole has two large new video boards this year as well. They’re fantastic and so that’s going to make 16’s experience really, really cool and different.”
One video board will be located “directly behind the green, one of them is to the south of the green. They’re all pretty viewable from almost any angle though.”
There’s also a new concession stand just off the 10th tee box that will serve as a VIP hangout during the tournament, with reservations required at the tables there.
The first two rounds be televised live on Golf Channel, with the third and final rounds on the weekend first on Golf Channel before switching over to CBS.
Barring a playoff, the tournament will end around 4 p.m., about 20 minutes before kickoff to Super Bowl 57 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale.
It's all about the merchandise
Near the fan zone is a bigger and badder merchandise tent.
In 2022, the area for fans to buy hats, shirts, pullovers and more measured about 5,000 square feet. In 2023, Williams said the space will be five times bigger, with more than 25,000 square feet of WMPO items flying off the shelves.