By Joe Eigo
SCOTTSDALE – Celebrities have invaded the Valley as both the WM Phoenix Open and the Super Bowl have taken center stage. On Wednesday, a handful of those celebrities joined the top golfers in the world for the Annexus Pro-Am at TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium Course.
Athletes Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Michael Phelps, Larry Fitzgerald, Carli Lloyd and J.J. Watt joined entertainers including Jason Aldean and Chris Lane for the star-studded event. The PGA Tour stop has built up quite the reputation and is a magnet for celebrities not afraid to showcase their golf skills.
“I’m really excited. I really wanted to play in this event for a while now,” Pujols said. “Just to have the opportunity now to do it is awesome. You just heard it. Probably going to be close to 150,000 people walking through here today, it’s pretty exciting. It’s probably one of the best events during the tour season.”
As each golfer took their practice swings with the 16th hole looming, Rodriguez said he’s prepared for whatever reaction comes his way from the 16th hole faithful.
“I got my Cardinals jersey, maybe they’ll treat me well,” Rodriguez said. “But, if they decide to boo, I got some pretty good training on that, too.”
Someone who’s no stranger to this event is Michael Phelps, the most accomplished Olympic swimmer of all time. The Arizona native is a huge golf fan and couldn’t contain his excitement about his Wednesday foursome.
“I probably geek out more over the golfers more than anything else,” Phelps said. “I’m a huge golf nerd. Just being able to watch some of these guys up close. Playing with Ricky (Fowler) and (Gary) Woodland today so I’m excited to see Ricky’s new move. It kind of looks like it use to and swing looks great, and Gary’s just awesome. I love Gary, I’ve gotten to know him pretty well over the past few years.”
The 23-time Olympic gold medalist retired in 2016, transitioning to the next phase of his life. He has been vocal about helping those dealing with mental health struggles since putting his Olympic career to bed.
“Speaking out about mental health and really trying to lower the stigma,” Phelps said. “It’s a dream of mine to be able to get the help and care that everyone needs who is suffering. I still struggle almost daily with depression and anxiety so I want to help other people.
“I know it can get dark and obviously went through a lot of different things with the pandemic, so this is something I’m trying to speak out more about.”
Carli Lloyd, a former U.S. Women’s National Team soccer star, just recently started playing golf. The two-time World Cup champion loves what the game has to offer.
“For starters just being able to play with my husband. He’s been in the golf business, playing on so many tours,” Lloyd said. “Now it’s something we can do together so he’s been teaching me, taking the long game approach. It’s a process, the golf game is very detailed, but I’ve taken what I’ve done on the soccer field and applied it to golf.”
The No. 1 ranked golfer in the world by the Official World Golf Ranking, Rory McIlroy, will get his first full Phoenix Open experience this week in Scottsdale. The Irishman is curious as to what this weekend will look like with two massive events in town.
“It’s gonna be really interesting ‘cause I feel like Saturday here is going to be a huge day in terms of the numbers and everything,” McIlroy said. “It’ll be interesting to see what Sunday’s like with people, obviously wanting to get to the Super Bowl, but that stadium can hold a certain number of people where obviously this golf course can hold a lot more than that. Hopefully Sunday doesn’t feel too much quieter than Saturday.”