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Unruly behavior dampens great finish in the Waste Management Phoenix Open



Has the Waste Management Phoenix Open reached the point in which it has gone from a fun tournament to a dangerous one and alcohol should not be served.

I don’t believe so, though Zach Johnson (Titleist) and Billy Horschel (Titleist) certainly made their feelings known about unruly fan behavior at the recent event.

In the case of Johnson, he was the target of some derisive unruly comments from at least one person or maybe more before he finally snapped. It related to some of his controversial picks as the captain of last year’s American team in the Ryder Cup. The U.S. lost badly and Johnson was vilified for it, but what happened clearly indicated he had enough.

He was seen on video in a heated discussion with tournament volunteers. A member of the police entered the scene just in case it escalated.

He was later quoted as saying, “This tournament has been inappropriate or crossed the line since I’ve been on (the PGA) Tour. I don’t know what the line is, but you have people falling out of the rafters, you have fights in the stands. It’s to the point where now, how do you reel it in?”

Look, this tournament is an anomaly with its raucous fan behaviour, famously or infamously depending on your point of view, at the par-3 16th hole. Thousands of people congregate in the grandstands hoping to see a hole-in-one.

When there were separate examples of it two years ago by Sam Ryder (Titleist) and Carlos Ortiz (Titleist), fans hurled beer bottles like projectiles. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

But seeing the potential danger of that, beer bottles were banned and replaced by recycled plastic cups. Some patrons responded by joining paper cups together and forming snake lines. That continued this year, though a shot that almost ended up as an ace by one player resulted in a flurry of cups flying from the stands.

Weather literally put a damper on this years’ tournament, which had to be stopped, started and delayed because of rain, darkness and frost. I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been both for players and patrons. Some players began a round a mere 20 minutes after completing a round.

As for the patrons, particularly those watching from the stadium, that resulted in uncomfortable conditions. Add

in the consumption of beer, well, that’s a bad combination. Seeing people sprinted madly from the gate to claim a seat in the stadium resembled the annual running of the bulls in Pamplona. The madness was filmed and shown on NBC and the Golf Channel’s TV broadcast. It was both funny and scary. Again, it’s a good thing no one was seriously injured. But because of the delays and trying to fit in two rounds in one day, some people didn’t get in who paid admission when the gates were closed. Meanwhile, some who made it in had fun slipping in muddy grass areas of the course and others sliding like something out of Woodstock. One spectator jumped into a green-side bunker on the 16th hole and was subsequently escorted away.

The images of all this mayhem might have seemed amusing, but is this the tipping point and cause for taking a good, hard look at the event and putting more protocols in place? The final on Sunday had ideal conditions and a great finish with Nick Taylor (Titleist) and Charley Hoffman (Titleist) battling in a great playoff.

After the tournament ended, Executive Director Chance Cozby told the Golf Channel: “We are very proud of what we’ve built. I think we’ve been tournament of the year on the PGA Tour five of the last seven years. But we don’t

like what happened on Saturday. The players don’t like what happened on Saturday. Our fans don’t like what happened on Saturday and so nothing is off the table.

“The fine line was when we just felt like we were really at a point on Saturday where our fans could not move around the golf course and at that moment the right thing to do was to take the steps we did. The flow of people simply could not flow, and we knew that we needed to make an operational decision at that point to get people off the golf course.”

He said the whole general admission process and the security plan would be examined for possible changes.

“Saturday at the WM Phoenix Open is 2024 is going to end up being a turning point for our tournament and our organisation to make our event even better. We learned so much and we know that we need to make improvements. We owe it to our fans, we owe it to the PGA Tour players that come and support this event and we’re not going to let this happen again for all these reasons.”

The crazy weather in California that compromised the AT&T Pebble Beach Open, which was reduced to 54 holes, carried over to Arizona. Those conditions might

never happen again, but fan frenzy is a part of the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

As for banning beer, I don’t think that will happen.

BOOING GOOD SHOTS: I felt bad for the golfers getting booed mercilessly even if they landed on the green with their tee shots.

I think any time you can land on the green with your tee shots it’s an accomplishment, so I felt the crowd was being quite unfair in that respect. I get it if the ball lands on the green and then rolls off, it’s not a good shot.

But when you have golf commentators Smylie Kaufman and newcomer Kevin Kisner participating in the booing from a table overlooking the hole, well, that to me is a bit weird, though there were many comments on the internet by people who thought it was amusing. This is not the first time the network covering the event has had a greenside location, but it’s the first time I recall broadcasters cheering and jeering. Kisner brought along a football to give to players to throw into the crowd.

I wonder if some golfers dread hitting their tee shots on the 16th hole because the pressure is ramped by the thousands of fans in the grandstand.

So seeing a player booed mercilessly after his ball landed 20 feet or more away from the pin was unfair, even more so if the birdie attempt fell short.

Perry Lefko
Perry Lefko
Perry Lefko is an award-winning writer who has published nine books, three of them bestsellers. He has been involved in sports writing for more than 35 years and has interviewed many superstar athletes. He lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada and enjoys watching golf and playing it.

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