The Great American Nightmare: Was Jay Monahan’s PGA Tour Caught Wrong-Footed at the WM Phoenix Open?

Published 02/13/2024, 1:45 AM EST

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USA Today via Reuters

Overrated.” As Jordan Spieth was walking off the green at the 16th hole in TPC Scottsdale, chants of overrated and boos followed. The 13-time PGA Tour winner made a bogey in the first round, much to the ire of a section of fans who were eagerly waiting for an ace. Although another section of the golf fans shushed them down, once again, similar chants were heard on Saturday at the WM Phoenix Open.

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Max Homa, who witnessed the frivolous reactions, took to X (formerly Twitter) to thank the knowledgeable fans who shut them down, much to the chagrin of the section who actually considered Spieth a ‘has-been’ and ‘overrated’. Visuals of disgruntled and drunk fans almost on the verge of throwing away their hard-earned sanity filled the Internet, prompting questions: Has it gone too much? Was the Tour unprepared to curtail the raucousness?

Fans let go of their frustration

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Chants of ‘we want a beer’ rang across TPC Scottsdale after the organizer limited the sales of alcohol in some areas. The problem was compounded by the gates closing. Fans pointed out that there were enough rooms inside the course. Moreover, as the decision was announced suddenly, many fans were left in the lurch. 

The reputation of the WM Phoenix Open as the People’s Open seems to have backfired. Many fans came to the course with the idea of having a raucous party rather than watching golf or even in some cases partying and interrupting the game. “It’s the Waste Management (Phoenix) Open. It’s known for being a party,” a disgruntled fan told Cronkite News. Similar sentiments echoed outside the gates of TPC Scottsdale. The problem was further made worse by the weather, as even players had a hard time getting into the course.

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Double double, toil, and trouble

The tournament organizers had to close the gates “due to larger than usual crowds.” Tickers were sold out for both Friday and Saturday. Amid the rain and frost, the shuttle service was also not available for some time. Coupled with closed entry points, it created trouble for even the PGA Tour pros. Jordan Spieth, for one, was unable to enter at first.

USA Today via Reuters

The 30-year-old later told the media, “I drove up and I said, ‘How am I supposed to get back to the course?’ He said, ‘We’re over capacity. It’s hazardous, so we’ve got to go through a different [entrance].” Some fans were not that lucky, as they complained that going from one hole to the next has become a major problem due to mud holes in between.

That was also the reason which led to overcrowding in some areas. A few fans, though, found the muddy slopes a good opportunity to have some childish fun – sliding down the slope as the audience showered them with beers and words of encouragement. Spieth, who embraced the chaos on the back nine, had had enough by the time the final round ended. As the eye-popping visuals flooded the Internet, the ‘safety concern’ was not hard to understand.

A glimpse into the ruckus at the WM Phoenix Open

Speaking at the event last year, Justin Thomas said, “I would say 70 percent of the people here maybe don’t even come for the golf. They just come for the fun and the hospitality and the tents.” It became more and more evident this year what Thomas was talking about then. One fan also jumped over the course during the game to perform Snow Angles on the sand bunker.

Soon enough, more bleak news came pouring in. One woman fell down from the strand. Thankfully, Thunderbird Charities volunteers and police officials were quick to react and rescue the injured person. Reportedly, one fan was also arrested after a verbal spat with some police officials.

As ugly visuals of a fistfight circulated on the Internet, it once again raised the question of how much wildness can be tolerated at the ‘People’s Open’, for this wasn’t the first time the Tour was faced with such a problem. 

Play was stopped last time at the WM Phoenix Open

Only last year, the Tour was ‘seriously’ considering banning beer cans and sundry other measures to curb the crowds. After Sam Ryder made a hole-in-one—always a special case at the Collesium—fans erupted in joy. Perhaps a little too much as they started throwing beer cans and cups, both empty, half-empty, and full to the course.

The play was stopped for ten minutes to clear up the mess. But that wasn’t the only problem. A player rightly asked what would happen if any of those cans hit any player or a caddie, causing serious vision or auditory problems. There was no answer. The Tour reportedly mulled over using nets.

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Only half measures—that, too, was not properly implemented. But the problem, however, lies somewhere else. There is no way to curtail the behavior. By the time the match progressed to the final round this year, Zach Johnson and Billy Horschel were spotted in a profanity-laden verbal spat with a section of fans-turned-hecklers. The chants of ‘we want beer’ echoed, but the bars remained closed.

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There are calls to make this a norm—not to close the bar outright, but to let customers have whatever they want whenever they want and get away with it. As for the weather, Rex Hoggard at NBC called for a rethink of the PGA Tour’s West Coast swing schedule. Ideas are pouring in; will the Tour commissioner pay heed?

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Written by:

Parnab Bhattacharya

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One take at a time

Parnab Bhattacharya is a Beat Writer at EssentiallySports in the Golf Division. With four years of writing experience, he is now exploring his deep-rooted love for the gentleman’s sport. Parnab's area of expertise is his predictive and perspective pieces, where he explores all things golf, diving deep into the whys and whats behind players' and Tours' moves in the sport, and unflinchingly voicing his take.
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Edited by:

Sheldon Pereira

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