SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On Wednesday at TPC Scottsdale, the hill behind the ninth green was the place to be. Professionals competing in the pro-am traded places at the turn, offering fans a chance to snatch an autograph or two. The amateurs alongside them were more than happy to take the time to engage.
This, though, is not the 16th hole on Saturday. Real estate along the rope was hardly at a premium, even when Emmitt Smith and Carli Lloyd come by.
Then, around 12:30, that all began to change. It seemed a bit weird, considering the biggest draw on the green at the time was J.T. Poston, the world’s 49th-ranked player. But beyond Poston, past a greenside bunker and up the sloping fairway was the reason. There, preparing for his approach shot, was J.J. Watt.
On Wednesday, no face drew more attention than the recently-retired Watt’s. His number 99 — donned in both Cardinals’ red and Texans’ blue — outnumbered jerseys for this weekend’s Super Bowl participants. Chants of “J-J” broke out whenever and wherever. When he sunk a short putt to finish the front nine, the cheers were enough to make an unobservant spectator think he or she had fast-forwarded to Sunday afternoon.
And, of course, there were the crowds. Along those same green ropes that remained half-full most of the day, fans lined five-deep, reaching out hats, signs, water bottles and whatever else they hoped Watt would sign.
For Jon Rahm — the world No. 3 and this week’s betting co-favorite — playing with Watt offered the ideal start to the week. Since Watt signed with the Cardinals in 2021, he and Rahm, who lives in Scottsdale, have developed a close friendship.
On the ninth hole, as Rahm peeled off to exchange places with Seamus Power, that was on full display. The pair shared a short hug on the green before posing with each other’s gameday attire — Rahm with a white Watt Cardinals’ jersey and Watt with a pink golf polo.
“I’ve been fortunate to play with a friend a couple years in a row,” Rahm said. “It makes it a lot more fun because I can kind of be myself earlier in the day and the rest of the (amateurs) that have never met me and that I’ve never met get to know the real me very quickly just by my interactions with them. So it makes it a lot more fun.”
Although the fans stood five-deep mainly for Watt, Rahm was also happy to oblige with their autograph requests. When the following group — featuring Reggie Bush and Justin Thomas — finished up their…
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