Bickley: WM Phoenix Open caps the weirdest, wettest and wildest tournament ever
Feb 11, 2024, 2:43 PM | Updated: 5:35 pm
(Tyler Drake/Arizona Sports)
If space aliens landed at the TPC Scottsdale on any given Saturday during the WM Phoenix Open, they would believe we are the loudest, craziest, most passionate sports town on the planet. And that maybe we had a slight drinking problem.
Only one of those is true.
Under crisp air and bright sun, the WM Phoenix Open sprinted to the finish line on Sunday, capping one of the weirdest, wettest, wildest weeks in memory.
There’s a lot to unpack:
In terms of star power, the 2024 WM Phoenix Open had its weakest field in years. It was the rainiest, coldest tournament in decades. Thousands of parking spots disappeared in muddied, puddly fields. And it had no impact at all on the turnstiles.
To the contrary, the WM Phoenix Open took the unprecedented step of shutting the main gates at around 2 p.m. Saturday, denying entrance to those holding tickets. They shut off alcohol sales a little while later. Soon, there would be viral footage of drunken idiots sliding down hills, along with angry golfers tired of dealing with all the noise and the needling.
At first glance, the events might look and sound like a golf tournament once again on the edge, in danger of losing control. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“We’re not built for rain, right?” Tournament Chairman George Thimsen said on Sunday morning. “We’re usually 70 degrees and sunny. And this year, the weather did not cooperate.”
There were very good reasons for Thimsen’s decisions. By design, the TPC Scottsdale was built with an abundance of sidehills and grassy mounds. That way, it could hold massive galleries and still provide adequate sightlines and a quality viewing experience.
Having walked the grounds for the duration of the tournament, I can attest the slippery, muddy conditions made those sidehills treacherous on Saturday. Some were unnavigable, leading to gridlock on walkways and cart paths. The chaos was getting uncomfortable.
Those who paid for tickets and couldn’t gain access to the tournament certainly have a reason to feel miffed, although most Valley fans know that arriving at 2 p.m. for a Saturday at the Open is pure folly.
“Shutting the gates (on Saturday) was the right decision,” Thimsen said. “And we stand behind those decisions. There were areas that had to be roped off for safety purposes. There were areas where people congregate that were no longer safe. The weather made our entire footprint smaller, and we’re already one of the largest sporting events in the world.
“But at the end of the day, when you meet with city officials and first responders, and you learn there were no serious or major injuries with the slippery conditions and the sheer number of people, it goes back to the same thing: It’s about the safety of our fans.”
Thimsen’s decision also came after an unfortunate incident at the 16th hole on Friday, where a patron was hospitalized following a nasty fall. And over the past three decades at the WM Phoenix Open, there have been many rounds that have felt like Saturday, where massive crowds seemed both liquid and combustible.
The difference is that nobody ever expected the same anarchy and mob energy in terrible weather. Nobody expected massive crowds to rally around inclement conditions, to flex in the face of Mother Nature and thin-skinned golfers.
They did, and then some.
“This is our 89th year, and the fans come, rain or shine,” Thimsen said. “The traditional Saturday morning run to the 16th hole now happens on Friday as well, where thousands of people lined up to get in, some as early as midnight. And we met so many people from all over the world who didn’t care about the weather. It reinforces what we are. We are the People’s Open.”
By contrast, LIV Golf held a tournament in Vegas this weekend, where they attempted to duplicate our party scene at No. 16. It didn’t work. Because what we have is something no other PGA Tour stop can replicate or imitate. What we have is organic, electric, and occasionally out of control.
And I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Reach Bickley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to Bickley & Marotta mornings from 6-10 a.m. on Arizona Sports.