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Waste Management Phoenix Open–The Jig is Up

by | Feb 14, 2024

Unfortunately, the winner of the Waste Management Phoenix Open was the secondary story of the event.  Nick Taylor persevered to a well earned win on the second playoff hole over Charley Hoffman.  The Waste Management Phoenix Open has been professional golf’s answer to “The Greatest Show on Earth” with incredible attendance figures and a party atmosphere that the Blues Brothers would be proud of.  The Tournament has been crossing the line of fan etiquette and player respect for many years billed as just “a really good time” with the professionals bought in to the high jinks demonstrated by the large crowds.  The tournament draws almost 1 million spectators–which is at least 10X the gallery at a US Open or the Masters.  The Open Championship generates about 300,000 fans over its four days usually without any significant incident.  The lightening rod for the Phoenix Open has become the Roman Coliseum effect of the par 3, 16th hole grandstand, which has been sculpted in an atmosphere where the player is teeing off in front of 30,000 to 40,000 fans in the amphitheater that has been created to track the shots of the players.  Great shots are cheered and average to poor shots are booed loudly and things have been getting out of hand the past few years as projectiles of water bottles, balloons, beer cans and other disgusting paraphernalia have been reigning down on the players as they walk from tee to green.  This year the fan base crossed the line with fans yelling at players, undressing and other sorts of very bad behavior.  The tournament officials seemed to double down on the Roman concept by building another theater like atmosphere on the par 3, 12th hole.  The culprit is alcohol and drug abuse by a portion of the fan base, buttressed by the reputation of the event where bad behavior is generally tolerated and the players that had become used to this behavior, were struck this year by the number of incidents and breadth of fan misbehavior.    The fun line has been breached into an area of insecurity and unsafe conditions for the fan, and the tournament leaves Phoenix with a very bad taste that has tournament officials worried and have now realized that something has to be done.  The Thunderbirds have been managing this event successfully for many years and enjoyed a sterling reputation of achievement.  They have been stung by the adverse publicity that the event has generated in the world of professional golf and now have to make changes that will cause the event to dial back some aspects of this show for the protection and safety of participants, officials and fans.  Tournament officials have acknowledged that change is necessary and this form of bad behavior by fans has to be dialed back.  I believe that there is no other option but to eliminate the sale of alcohol at the event and restrict crowd size.  While these actions may have an adverse impact on funds raised for the event, actions such as these must ultimately preclude the event of a tragedy from occurring.  The current setup is risky for attendees and nothing good comes from the excesses of alcohol and drug abuse.  It’s true that bad weather may have caused restrictive and crowded conditions for viewing but the crowd size was simply too large to prevent trouble.  Waste Management trumpets sustainability in his corporate mantra but this tournament requires some recycling of behavior by its fans and organizers.

Nick Taylor’s achievement should not be minimized by the cacophony of fan behavior.  He had to stay focused as the leaders set a pace that would be difficult to overcome.  Taylor came from 3 behind with a barrage of 4 birdies on the final 5 holes to catch Charley Hoffman and force a playoff.  Taylor’s short game was magical as he holed putt after putt after giving himself the opportunity to make those putts with some iron shots that continued to spin towards the hole.  It was one of those weeks when the hole became magnified and receptive and fellow competitor Charley Hoffman could only marvel as putt after putt went down for Taylor as he converted to win on the second playoff hole.

This tournament is no longer fun for the general fan.  It’s time to dial back attendance, eliminate the alcohol and move backward to a finer level of respect and etiquette for the touring professional who has had to achieve a great deal just to get into this field.




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