One year during the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Kenny Perry went to get a haircut, during which the stylist asked why he was in town. “I’m playing in the golf tournament,” Perry said.
“I love the golf event,” she replied enthusiastically. “I go every night.”
There is much to admire about the WMPO in daylight hours, too. It has raised more than $120 million for charity and every year draws more fans than any other PGA Tour stop – 655,434 in 2017. But some other statistics aren’t so admirable.
Last year there were 118 arrests at TPC Scottsdale, most for alcohol-related incidents, a figure that doesn’t include DUI busts as spectators hook and slice their way home along the highways. The Scottsdale Police Department tried to manage the wasted, offering free Breathalyzer tests at the exit in 2016. Nine thousand fans – roughly 1.5 percent of attendees that week – took the test. Four thousand of them were over the limit.
Like a bar on St. Patrick’s Day, the WMPO is given over to the raucous, many gathered at the Coliseum-like 16th hole, a 163-yard gauntlet in which players are hazed and taunted while TV announcers breathlessly tell viewers how great it is to see such passionate fans.
It’s an annual reminder of golf’s self-esteem issue, as folks who should know better pretend the hollering of boors in beer goggles elevates the game.
Some players enjoy it, others fake it. But all are painfully aware that they’re in the Vatican of the “mashed potato” meatheads.
“I can see why some guys who’ve been out here for a long time find it off-putting. It can kind of wear on you after a few years,” said Brandt Snedeker, a regular at the WMPO. “If you embrace it, it’s a lot of fun. The fans are obviously having a great time. You have to go into it with the right mindset, accepting that you’re going to get some loud, crazy people yelling at you all day.”
Pros who play the WMPO are essentially being asked to demonstrate the same resignation required of every commuter on the New York City subway. Which might explain why some players simply don’t show up. Like Tiger Woods, who has played WMPO once in the last 18 years.
Snedeker is one who enjoys the vibe, within reason.
“Everyone loves 16. It’s the other holes. It’s 11 tee box and 14 green, where people are on their way out or whatever, had a few too many drinks, they start getting after you a little bit,” he said. “That’s when you’re like, ‘OK, come on!’ But 16 is great. You’re expecting chaos and it is chaotic. It’s when you’re not expecting chaos it’s off-putting.”
“Chill!,” cry the enablers. “It’s only one week a year!”
But what happens at TPC Scottsdale doesn’t stay at TPC Scottsdale, does it? The WMPO emboldens hecklers elsewhere, who think that no shot is complete unless accompanied by their slurred synopsis from beyond the ropes.
“You get it every week. It’s just part of life out here right now,” Snedeker said. “People want to be part of the show. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. If people want to have fun doing that, that’s great. I think we have to try to embrace it and not be the stuffy old sport that we are sometimes.”
He makes a fair point. But there’s a middle ground between stuffy, funereal reverence and a tacky spectacle that diminishes every broadcast outside of Augusta National.
Perhaps the WMPO can consider the tactics used by cops in many of those bars on St. Patrick’s Day: encourage folks who want to enjoy the event and punish the minority who prevent them from doing just that.
Golfweek, Jan. 29, 2018.