Let’s face it — there aren’t many comparisons between golf and football.
In fact, you could argue that the two sports couldn’t be more opposite. However, thanks to the Waste Management Phoenix Open, golf and the Super Bowl have established an awesome relationship with one another.
I’ll never forget traveling with a group of friends to Tempe, Arizona in 1996 during Super Bowl weekend. That year, perhaps the greatest NFL rivalry of all-time was meeting up in Tempe for Super Bowl XXX.
The Dallas Cowboys versus the Pittsburgh Steelers. My friends and I didn’t have tickets, but it was a relatively short drive from New Mexico, so we decided to make the drive to Tempe to at least take in the festivities.
Little did I know that our Super Bowl experience would soon become one of my fondest golf memories. Just as the NFL had a rivalry between Dallas and Pittsburgh, golf had a new rivalry between Phil Mickelson and Justin Leonard.
I witnessed this rivalry between Mickelson and Leonard first hand in college. Mickelson had been the star at Arizona State, while Leonard was the star at the University of Texas. They were the top two college golfers during most of their college careers.
The 1996 Phoenix Open (not yet sponsored by Waste Management), became a battle between these two former college golf rivals.
I’ll never forget stepping into a local sports bar anticipating the Super Bowl talk and the football coverage on television. However, on this particular day, all eyes were focused on the final round of the Phoenix Open. Mickelson and Leonard were tied after 72 holes and were heading towards a playoff.
It was amazing theater.
Mickelson, as you could imagine, was already a legend in Tempe. He had just finished up at ASU a couple of years prior, and he was the crowd favorite. With each shot Mickelson hit, the crowd in the bar reacted with cheers. Conversely, with each shot Leonard hit, the crowd reacted with jeers.
As the script would play out to perfection, Mickelson eventually defeated Leonard on the third hole of a playoff and those in the bar erupted with excitement.
These days, the Waste Management Phoenix Open continues to be played during Super Bowl week. It’s a tradition that I love, based on my memories from 1996.
The amphitheater surrounding the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale has become legendary. It’s the party of the year on tour.
As much fun as the tournament continues to be, nothing will ever compare to the experience I had watching two great rivals compete on television during Super Bowl weekend in 1996.