Is there anything worse than the moment the party turns bad?
One second you’re lapping up a few frothy refreshments, participating in intriguing conversations about the state of world affairs and testing your luck at the Flip Cup table. The next, you’re in misery — your stomach turned, the lights harshened, the weird guy in the Patagonia sweater fixated on a discussion about the third act of his movie script. Suddenly, all the little flaws you’d overlooked come roaring to life. The room smells faintly like body odor. The same overly catchy song has been played thrice. The guy in the Patagonia sweater really struggles with character development.
We’ve all found ourselves in this position at least once before, and if you’re a golf fan residing in the greater Scottsdale area this weekend? Well, it appears you experienced this firsthand at what is annually (and this weekend, regrettably) called “the biggest party in golf.”
The switch flipped on the party sometime early on Saturday afternoon at this week’s WM Phoenix Open. After a week’s worth of frigid temps and blustering rain, crowds poured into TPC Scottsdale in the morning with anxious anticipation. The Greatest Show on Turf had not been that yet, but with the sun finally shining and record crowds expected, the weekend was brimming with potential.
By the time the rain-delayed second round ended shortly before noon local time, the party had reached a fever pitch. The last groups through the 16th hole sent the hordes charging out to the beer stands, loading up for what was sure to be a raucous afternoon. But as everyone waited out the break in play before the start of round three, things started to fall apart.
The concourses were overloaded with people, as my GOLF.com colleague Claire Rogers documented, so many of them that some fans were trampled in the most crowded areas, leaving organizers to cut holes in temporary fencing just to relieve the volume of people. Some fans reported that tournament volunteers had stopped checking tickets, letting in whoever tried to stream through the parking lot. Before long, organizers announced a first in pro golf: they had closed the gates to the tournament.
“When I went home and when I came back, I couldn’t come the same direction,” Jordan Spieth said Saturday night. “[A police officer] said, ‘we’re over capacity. It’s hazardous, so we’ve got to go through a different entry.’ Once he said that, I thought maybe we were in a little bit of trouble this afternoon.”
On the course, things were even worse. Security was stretched to the limit to keep an increasingly inebriated crowd under control. One fan ran shirtless onto the famed 16th hole, stopping for a snow angel in the hole’s greenside bunker before he was arrested. Another group of fans started a de facto slip-n-slide in the mud. A third group broke into a greenside brawl, and fought for what felt like a while before security personnel appeared. Countless videos circulated social media showing fans too drunk to stand upright, faceplanting in the mud or falling over their own two feet.
As the clock ticked closer to the start of the third round, tournament organizers decided on a second first: they were suspending alcohol sales to the general public for the remainder of the afternoon.
To the credit of organizers and security personnel, the situation seemed to simmer in the hours following. Fans sobered up, and the golfers were able to get most of the way through the third round before the final horn blew. Hope sprang anew as golfers returned to the course for Sunday morning, but unfortunately, so did the tournament’s alcohol sales.
It was shortly after 10 a.m. local time, only minutes after play began, that tensions rose again — and this time the players were in the middle of it. Zach Johnson, the typically stoic former Masters winner, was filmed in a shouting match with one fan off the side of a fairway.
“Don’t ‘sir’ me!” He yelled. “Somebody said it. I’m just sick of it. Just shut up, okay.”
As that video made the rounds quickly, a second one followed. This time it was Billy Horschel, hot-headed but unquestionably gregarious with fans, in a shouting match of his own.
“Buddy, when he’s over the shot, shut the hell up,” Horschel yelled into the gallery. “C’mon. He’s trying to hit a damn golf shot here. It’s our f***ing job!”
Later, in the 18th fairway, it was Spieth himself with ire for the fans, mouthing a profanity seconds after a fan appeared to scream in his backswing.
By the time the leaders turned for home on Sunday, the drama had mostly abated. Even if social media remained a steady stream of fan misbehavior, the acts remained largely within the realm of traditional WM Phoenix Open debauchery: faceplants, public urination and an apparent mudslide (the act, not the drink). Offenses worthy of the ire of players — screaming in backswings, crowd movement around the putting green, blatant disregard for typical golf etiquette — continued too, but at that point in the weekend, it was hard to feign surprise.
All around the players, the biggest party in golf rolled on. Inside the ropes, though, some couldn’t wait for it to be over.