The Phoenix Open might be in need of an intervention. Concerned family members like Billy Boy Horschel, Captain Zatch Johnson, and Ben An have likely started a group text discussing the when and where to confront their drunk uncle.
You probably fall into one of two camps. Either you’re horrified at scenes — fans fighting, fans passed out, fans pissing themselves while passed out, fans heckling players and players confronting them on the rope line, fans rolling around topless on muddy hillsides, fans streaking into play and exposing themselves both above and below the waist, fans falling from lofty TIO perches — from this year’s Phoenix Open. Or you’re horrified that anyone is horrified about this. However you feel, it’s clear that The Discourse around this drunk uncle of an event has peaked.
We’re operating in a sports society that sees every move, wardrobe choice, coaching decision, and play placed under an intense microscope. The debate over Phoenix Open decorum quickly became a sport of its own, driven by certain segments of media ever-hungrier for topics to shout about. It looks and feels louder now thanks in part to smartphones, which allow for every bit of decadent and depraved behavior to break contain and be broadcast to the entire world. That means it looks much worse than ever, whether it actually is worse or not. It also means people inside the gates know they’re one captured moment away from virality, which partly motivates, say, a swan dive into the bunker at 16.
Did this weekend cross some kind of line? My hot take: man, I don’t know. It seems like it got to be a bit too much on Saturday, when organizers refused to admit any more ticketed fans and shut off alcohol sales for a time. If you don’t like it, I don’t think that makes you a prude or a pearl-clutcher. At this point in my life it does not look like my scene. I’d prefer Phoenix remain a unique, one-off party spot on the schedule. The presence of LIV has created an environment where everyone looks to the Tour for reactive changes in response to every complaint, controversy, bad weather break, or underwhelming finish. It’s turned up the intensity of focus on anything that happens on Tour, a situation that can lead to both productive evolution and hasty overreactions.
Fan behavior in Scottsdale that populated every aggregator account and feed is the kind of behavior that’s standard fare for an NFL or college football tailgate. As a Clevelander, I often heard the story of my dad and friends howling from the top row of 10 Cent Beer Night as chaos unfolded on the field more entertaining than the substandard baseball. Phoenix is not extreme and it is not new. But it might be too much for the attendant golf tournament. Scaling things back wouldn’t be unprecedented either; there wasn’t another 10 Cent Beer Night, after all. More than any other non-major, the Phoenix Open has penetrated into the wider sports consciousness, and that’s owing very little to the actual golf. But it’s still a golf tournament, and if all the extracurriculars make it untenable, things will tighten.
What happens next is up to the players. As we’ve seen recently, this is a “player empowerment” era. No external commentary or opinion on either side of the debate matters as much as what the players say about this weekend’s environment. Many seem to think it got to be too much. Players have the power to shape this, and it seems likely a collective group of voices may ask the tournament to come in, take a seat, and have a talk about its behavior.
This piece originally appeared in the Fried Egg Golf newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.