When the Phoenix Suns schedule comes out each August, Devin Booker looks for a few dates. Among them are the four days of the Phoenix Open each winter.
Typically, the timing doesn’t work out. Even if the Suns are in town for part of the tournament, the demands of games and traveling make attending a midseason golf tournament difficult. This year, though, fell into place perfectly. The team plays in Indiana on Friday night and then have three days off before a home date with the Kings.
So on the weekend at TPC Scottsdale, Booker and Chris Paul will be there, watching and enjoying the spectacle with hundreds of thousands of fans.
“I'm excited about it,” Booker said. “Most of the time, we've been out of town. A couple times, we've gotten to experience it. Just the atmosphere.”
Booker spoke Thursday, on a stage at Chase Field for the Phoenix Open Tee-Off Luncheon. Because he and Paul will be in attendance at the tournament, they were the luncheon’s featured guests — a list that has previously included the likes of Michael Phelps and Larry Fitzgerald.
Early in the session — which was conducted by Diamondbacks president and CEO Derrick Hall — the two spoke of their shared love of golf.
Paul, for his part, first played the game at TPC Scottsdale, when he was in town for the 2009 NBA All-Star Game. Prior to that visit, his trips to Phoenix had always been in and out. But being in town for a few days with minimal basketball commitments, he was able to get out and play 18 holes. More than a decade later, the weather and golf he experienced on that trip were ancillary factors in his decision to come to Phoenix — one that, admittedly, centered more around Booker and the team’s ability to contend for titles.
Booker found the game later, in part due to entering the NBA a decade after Paul. So on Thursday, when Hall asked Paul if he’s a better golfer, the point guard didn’t hesitate.
“Mr. Booker can tell you what happened last time we played,” Paul said. “… But the answer to your question is yes.”
For much of their session with Hall, the pair’s chemistry was evident in their good-natured ribbing. At one point, Hall asked Paul why he played college at Wake Forest.
“It was to stay close to home, but also because it was a great academic school. Seriously. I wasn't a college phenom who knew I was going to the NBA,” Paul said.
Mid-sentence, Booker interjected: “Same reason I went to Kentucky,” he said, drawing laughs from the large crowd on hand.
“This guy makes me laugh,” Paul responded. He continued, “This man didn’t even —” before cutting himself off prior to implicating Booker. “That’s for another day.”
Throughout their session, that type of joking continued. At one point, Paul mentioned that the first time he went to the Phoenix Open was in 2020, on the morning of a game between the Suns and the Thunder, who Paul played for at the time.
“He don't really like this story, cause it was on gameday,” Paul said.
The implication, as Booker acknowledged, is that Paul felt he could go to a golf tournament on the morning of a game because the Suns — coming off a 19-win season — weren’t a threat to his Thunder.
Nowadays, of course, that’s no longer the case. At 15-6, the Suns are atop the Western Conference and among the favorites to win the NBA title. The turnaround, as has been endlessly chronicled by now, began in the COVID bubble of 2020, when the Suns went undefeated. Paul was partially convinced to come to Phoenix in the first place by that stretch, which included a win over his Thunder.
That game, too, comes up in Paul and Booker’s ribbing.
“Let me just say one thing about them going undefeated,” Paul said. “We (the starters) didn't play the second half. We played them in the bubble. He always reminds me that they beat us, but we didn't play the second half.”
Phoenix Open expecting strong field
Phoenix Open chairman Pat Williams did not share specifics over who will play in this year’s tournament. However, he did say that he expects it to be the strongest field ever, because of its elevated status in the PGA Tour’s new format, which was changed in response to competition from the LIV Golf Tour.
Williams added that the pro-am field is also the strongest ever. That is in part because the Super Bowl is in Glendale the same week, drawing celebrities from across the country and globe.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Chris Paul, Devin Booker discuss golf, other topics at Phoenix Open luncheon