This week, some of the best golfers in the world will arrive in the desert, where they’ll duel it out for a multi-million dollar winner’s share. Yes, that’s a description of the WM Phoenix Open. It also doubles as a description of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf tournament occurring simultaneously in Las Vegas.
For years, the Phoenix Open has had Super Bowl week to itself. When the game is in this part of the country, the tournament takes on a different aura. Celebrities fly into Scottsdale, spend Friday and Saturday at the 16th hole, then head out on their private jets in time for the game.
Now, there’s competition. Complicating matters, the LIV tournament will be held at the Las Vegas Country Club, just six miles down the road from Allegiant Stadium, which is hosting the Super Bowl.
So, does all of this concern the Phoenix Open’s organizers?
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“Absolutely not,” tournament chairman George Thimsen told The Republic. “… There’s nothing that touches — especially in golf but in a lot of sporting events — that touches what we do here.”
The competition from LIV isn’t the only threat facing the Phoenix Open this year. Thimsen and his team of organizers, the Thunderbirds, got bad news this summer, when the tournament was not given signature status for 2024.
Signature status — originally called elevated status — began last year, with the PGA Tour giving the designation to its most prestigious tournaments. With the status comes larger purses and rules that require most of the tour’s top players to participate.
At the time, the Phoenix Open was one of 13 such events (excluding major championships). This year, the list was trimmed to eight, putting Phoenix on the chopping block. The distinction was awarded to this week’s event, the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
Thimsen, though, isn’t fazed. He believes the tournament was not selected as a signature event because it has the cachet to stand on its own. This week’s field supports that theory. Despite falling directly between two signature events on the calendar, the Phoenix Open will feature five of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking, including world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, the event’s two-time defending champion.
“You’ve got some great players coming here and…