“The atmosphere has been incredible all week,” were the words of Waste Management Phoenix Open champion Nick Taylor, but several of those who didn’t get rewarded with over $1.5 million for their week’s work have differing views on the debauched behavior that has become commonplace at the gigantic stag party in golf hats that descends on TPC Scottsdale each year.
2023 US Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson was one of those on the receiving end of the jibes that ventured beyond what was deemed acceptable by the player, with a fan video surfacing in which the two-time major champion is in a heated argument with fans and can be heard saying: “Don’t ‘sir’ me. Somebody said it. I’m just sick of it. Just shut up!”
Quite what was said to provoke the reaction is unclear, but the natural assumption is to think that criticism over his leadership as the much-lauded United States side were soundly beaten by their European counterparts was the root cause.
Another video showed Billy Horschel reprimanding a fan for heckling during the backswing of playing partner Nicolo Galletti. “Buddy, when he’s over a shot, shut the hell up, dude,” Horschel told the fan. “He’s trying to hit a damn golf shot here. It’s our f**king job.”
Players know what they’re signing up for when they enter the field in Phoenix and they are largely prepared for it, but every now and then they feel that the boisterous nature of the fans crosses the threshold.
“When you’re impacting the golf tournament, that’s where it gets a little bit too much,” Horschel said afterwards. “And when you’re saying personal things. The last couple of years, the guys I’ve played with, I’ve heard some personal stuff yelled at them. And I think that’s just not right.”
It’s hard to feel too much sympathy for players, most of whom are multi-millionaires, and have another $8.8 million up for grabs, but the constant fear is that those wealthy enough to afford to take the week off will do so in increasing numbers, leaving the best attended and one of the most widely covered regular PGA Tour events with a sub-standard field.
“It’s been talked about amongst players about, if this would continue to escalate over the next few years, you could see players not want to come here,” Horschel said. “And that’s an unfortunate situation.”
Horschel did admit that the events of the last few days won’t be enough to stop him from returning for next year’s event, but Johnson wasn’t quite so sure when he was asked the same question later on.
“You’re hitting me at a very emotional point right now, so if I were to say if I’m gonna come back, I’d probably say no,” Johnson told The Republic. “But at the same time, I have no idea.”
Johnson felt that the events this year went above and beyond what he’d experienced in any previous visits, saying: “This tournament has been inappropriate and crossed the line since I’ve been on tour and this is my 21st year.”
This is one of the regular stops on Johnson’s schedule because he’s a fan of the golf course, but, particularly for a devout Christian, not so much of the extra curricular activity.
“I don’t know what the line is, but you have people falling out of the rafters, you have fights in the stands,” Johnson said. “It’s to the point where now, how do you reel it in? Because it’s taken on a life of its own. I think the Thunderbirds probably need to do something about it. I’m assuming they’re ashamed. Because at some point, somebody’s either gonna really, really get hurt or worse.”
And it wasn’t just players who felt things got a little out of hand this year.
Todd Williams of Phoenix, has been ever present for 10 years in a row, but told GolfWeek that the tournament would need to announce “drastic changes such as multiple new entrance points and more concessions” for him to continue attending.
“I’m all for the party and craziness,” Williams said. “The insane and rowdy crowds make the event. This year, Friday felt like a normal Saturday, and Saturday was just complete chaos. It was hard to enjoy the event when it took 30-plus minutes at any concessions and bathrooms were long waits, too.”