With a $20 million purse and a $3.6 million first-place prize, the WM Phoenix Open, the first full-field designated event of 2023, is brimming with anticipation. And it's not just fans clamoring to get on the property at TPC Scottsdale.
The event will be without Adam Scott and Will Zalatoris but every other big name on the PGA Tour will be teeing it up.
For many others, the desire to get in the field has reached unprecedented levels, as last-minute scrambling has been taking place all week around the Phoenix area with eight pre-qualifiers and an upcoming Monday qualifier.
It's the second year there were eight pre-qualifiers and each one sold out. That's right, 78 golfers paid $250 to fill up each of the 624 spots at eight golf courses around town. And the competition was fierce.
"I don't know if you saw the scores but it was ridiculous," said Bill Ibrahim of the Southwest Section PGA, which runs all the qualifiers. "There was a guy who shot a bogey-free 64 and didn't get through. It's insane."
The PGA Tour sets the criteria for advancing out of the pre-qualifiers and it was determined with eight of them that only the top two and ties from each would advance.
Berk Harvey of San Jose posted the best score of the week with a 62 at a City of Phoenix municipal golf course called Aguila. George Markham of Phoenix and Sudarshan Yellamaraju of Ontario, Canada, each shot 63s at Aguila to advance. Jared du Toit of Scottsdale topped his pre-qualifier with a 64 at Western Skies Golf Course in the suburb of Gilbert. The highest advancing score was a 67, shot by five players at the 500 Club in Glendale.
In all, 26 golfers finished top two or ties and have punched their tickets to Monday. Of those 26, two are amateurs: Joe Neuheisel of Scottsdale (the son of former Colorado, Washington and UCLA football coach Rick Neuheisel) and Leon Acikalin of Phoenix. Amateurs need a handicap of 2 or lower to get in the pre-qualifier.
As of mid-day Friday, there were 118 golfers in the Monday qualifier, according to Ibrahim, who said the field could swell in the next few days. With that many golfers though, the Monday qualifier likely won't finish until Tuesday. Any frost delay would disrupt timing and Ibrahim, who joined the SWSPGA in 2017, says there's been a playoff every year he's been in Arizona to determine those precious three spots.
Already on the list for Monday are some well-known PGA Tour veterans: Byeong Hun An, Kevin Chappell, Robert Garrigus, Will Gordon, Ben Griffin, Harry Higgs, Grayson Murray, Ben Taylor, Martin Trainer and Bo Van Pelt.
"It's gonna be littered with PGA Tour players," said Pat Williams, tournament chairman for the 2023 WM Phoenix Open. "We've got so many players at the professional level who already live here in metro Phoenix, so it's convenient. And then you've got the elevated the designated status and people want to play for a lot of money."
A more significant change could be on the horizon, however, one that might bring an end to these manic Mondays.
"The PGA Tour still hasn't decided the criteria they're going to use for these designated events moving forward. Indications point to them all being some type of invitational," said Ibrahim. "If they decide the elevated events are invitationals. … then the open qualifying aspect will be gone, which would be a shame because we all know golf is very unique in that having that open qualifying, even if it's just one spot or three spots, it certainly gives these guys an opportunity to change their lives."
With the big money up for grabs in these designated events, even a top-20 finish could be enough to alter the futures for some of these golfers.
"It's a great thing about golf. Anybody can try to make it," Ibrahim said. "If you have the talent you certainly can compete and try to get into the event and potentially change your life."
The WM Phoenix Open is a designated event in 2023. The PGA Tour hasn't announced any designated events beyond the 2022-23 season. The WM Phoenix Open has expressed interest in remaining a designated event, according to 2023 tournament chairman Pat Williams, but the Tour will make the final decision.
"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," he said.
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Story originally appeared on GolfWeek