BOB WEST ON GOLF — Phoenix Open fan frenzy puts pressure on PGA policy
Published 12:07 am Wednesday, February 16, 2022
Sam Ryder’s hole-in-one on the 16th hole of the WM Phoenix Open Saturday afternoon may not be the equivalent of the shot heard around the world, but it shook the golf world’s foundation to its core. The equivalent of a mob insurrection, albeit in good fun, surely left an uneasy feeling in some circles.
To set the stage for those not familiar with the infamous 16th at TPC Scottsdale, it is a setting like no other in golf. Roughly 20,000 boozed- up fans surround the green in bleachers that make it look like a small football stadium. They raise an ongoing ruckus akin to Ryder Cup crowds in Europe on steroids.
Fans, if you want to call them that, race to position themselves when gates open at 4 a.m., and most stay until the final shot. They cheer good shots, but boo and vilify anything resembling a bad shot. Woe unto any pro who three putts or, God forbid, makes a double bogey.
Players who enter the event know what’s coming and most embrace the raucous, frat-party atmosphere. They wouldn’t stand for it on a regular basis, but accept that its sets the Phoenix event apart, helps shatter attendance records and raise millions for the sponsoring Thunderbirds organization.
Some players buy in to the point of donning the jersey worn by their college’s football or basketball team or some special cause like honoring Kobe Bryant last year. But even a player wearing Arizona or Arizona State gear is cut no slack if he knocks his tee shot into a trap or misses the green.
Into that atmosphere late Saturday stepped journeyman pro Ryder, having a fair-to-middling tournament. With the hole playing 124 yards, he launched a high wedge on a line to the right of the pin. The ball hit, spun left and rolled into the cup for the first ace on the 16th in the last 2,863 shots taken there in tourney play.
What happened next will be replayed forever. A roar like a jet plane taking off was followed by hundreds of partially filled beer cans, soda cups and water bottles flying out of the stands onto the green, sand trap and surrounding areas. Luckily nobody was hit in the head.
Never, ever has there been a scene like that in a PGA tournament. Old Tom Morris and Bobby Jones must still be spinning in their graves.
Anyone who hasn’t seen the mayhem needs to Google “Sam Ryder hole in one”. You will be absolutely astounded at the volume of flying beer cans and all the foam in the air. And you won’t believe the mess. Fortunately, Waste Management, the tournament sponsor, had a clean-up plan just in case someone made an ace and mayhem followed.
Even with scores of workers descending on the scene, it was nearly 20 minutes before Brian Harman, the player next up after Ryder, was able to launch his shot. He left it pin high about 20 feet and was booed unmercifully.
Remarkably, less than 24 hours and only 33 tee balls after Ryder’s ace, Carlos Ortiz authored the weekend’s second hole-in-one on 16. Another barrage of beer cans followed. However, since it was Sunday morning, and the crowd had been chugging brewskis for only a few hours, the madness was on a lesser scale.
As you might imagine, the sight of Ryder’s first PGA Tour ace has played repeatedly on social media, with all sorts of reaction and questions. Further leaving heads spinning and tongues wagging was the fact two players – Harry Higgs and Joel Dahmen – ripped off their shirts and went bare-chested on the 16th hole Sunday.
It was a sight nobody needed or wanted. Magic Mike replacements they are not.
So, was all this craziness just a one-off that could only happen in Phoenix? Will lubricated fans elsewhere be inspired to follow suit? Do future PGA events need to have beer-can-cleanup crews on the ready? Could the staid old game of golf, where silence is golden, be headed to a fan revolution requiring earplugs and helmets for players?
Bet on the probability much of that is being discussed behind closed doors.
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In the Monday Senior 50 Plus 2 ball at Babe Zaharias, the team of Doug LeBlanc, Cap Hollier, Dan Flood and Jerry May won the front with even par. Even was also a winner on the back for the foursome of Ted Freeman, Gary Fontenot, Lee Bertrand and Dwayne Benoit.
The Super Saturday 2 ball at Zaharias saw the team of Frank Richard, Harry Green, Rusty Hicks and Larry Lee win the front with a sizzling minus 5. The foursome of James Shipley, Craig Fontenot, Rick Pritchett and Lyndon Rojo was nearly as hot on the back, prevailing with minus 4.
Friday’s senior 2 ball saw the team of Earl Richard, Don MacNeil, Hollier and Lee take the front with minus 1. On the back, minus 1 was also a winner for the team of Bobby Wactor, Steve Wisenbaker, Thad Keishnick and Benoit.