Think about how crazy things have to get for officials to cut off alcohol sales at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Yes, the greenest party on grass reached a new level of sheer pandemonium this year. By Saturday afternoon, the combination of record crowds and unseasonably wet conditions had produced such an out-of-control situation that organizers pulled the plug. No more alcohol sales. No more people at all, in fact. They closed the gate around 2 p.m. local time, and here's the thing. If you're turning up to a golf tournament at 2 pm local time on a Saturday you're likely not there for the golf. You're there for the party.
Which, of course is fine. There are plenty of events that draw in huge crowds not because everyone there is a diehard fan of the sport. The Kentucky Derby. The Indianapolis 500. It's about the spectacle, the people watching, the getting-fucked-up-with-your-boys-in-the-morning. The Waste Management is officially on that tier. But there's an inherent problem to the Waste Management being on that tier, and it's built into the fabric of the golf watching experience. Let's contrast the WMPO with the Derby or the Indy 500. At those events, fans are confined to certain sports. They're not permitted to roam the grounds freely. They sit in their seats or their bleachers and that's that.
That obviously differs from a golf tournament, where the majority of fans are there on a General Admissions grounds ticket and can walk around as they please. That can become a huge issue when Mother Nature doesn't cooperate, and Mother Nature's been in one helluva mood on the West Coast the last few weeks. TPC Scottsdale was inundated with water—of course it rains in the desert the one week it can't rain in the desert—and that made the areas surrounding the holes, which have a "stadium" like design to allow maximum visibility, basically untenable. So you had hundreds of thousands of people confined to flat areas when they're supposed to be able to stand on hills. That's not a recipe for success.
Golf tournaments also allow fans to get closer to the action than perhaps any other sport; if you're willing to walk to the right hole, every single person can wrestle their way to a courtside seat. You can reach out and touch the players. If you say something, they're going to hear it. There's also an expectation of silence while a shot is being hit at a golf tournament. At the Kentucky Derby or the Indy 500, you're not close enough to distract the drivers or the horses and they're not expecting you to be quiet. So all that, mixed with copious amounts of alcohol, can break the fourth wall between golfers and fans at these events. It happened a few times this past week. The first clip that went viral involved Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson—it's not clear what the chirps were that prompted the reaction but it's very clear that he'd had enough.
More clips like these surfaced as the day wore on—including this one showing Billy Horschel laying into fans after they talked while Nico Galletti, a Monday qualifier playing his first-ever PGA Tour event, was standing over his shot.
"Buddy, when he's over the shot, shut the hell up, alright?" Horschel clapped back. "He's hitting a golf shot here. It's our fucking job."
Shooter McGavin vibes aside, it's hard to argue with Horschel here. Golf tournaments demand a certain decorum from fans in order to function properly and not impact the competition. There's really only one rule: don't make noise while the guy's hitting. I saw a lot of responses to the above videos saying basically it's Waste Management, you knew what you were getting into. But the players didn't snap when someone boo'd a shot that missed the green at 16. That's all in good fun, and that's part of what makes the tournament great. They only snapped when those small minority of fans crossed the proverbial line.
Now, do I think the WM Phoenix Open is in trouble? Not at all. It's obviously bigger than ever, and it sure seems like ticket sales and alcohol sales weren't impacted this year despite the tournament having a much, much weaker field than in 2023, when it was a signature event. Which brings me to my next point. This isn't a tournament that relies on big-name players to sell tickets. The people who blacked out, who were turned away on Saturday, they weren't turning up to see Matt Fitzpatrick grind out four-footers. It doesn't matter who's playing, really. It's a cultural event and they want to be a part of it. Which is a good thing, because I do believe that more top players—the guys who have the luxury of picking their schedules and don't feel pressure to play in every event they can get into—will skip Phoenix week going forward. 'Twas an unlucky confluence of events with the weather, but the takeaway on tour after this week is essentially that it was a shitshow. When you've got Wave God Will Wilcox saying this (he caddies for Sungje Im now), you know it's pretty drastic.
To summarize the WM Phoenix Open will continue in all its glory. Just perhaps with less top players.
Nick Taylor is a certified closer
There really aren't that many closers in golf. It's a very difficult thing to do, summoning your best golf when the lights are brightest. Tiger Woods, obviously, set the standard for this. But it's far more common to see guys shit the bed when they sniff victory. They'll pour in birdies all week and then get stuck in neutral come the back nine on Sunday.
Not Nick Taylor. The highlight of Taylor's career, at least until Sunday, was holing a 72-foot putt to become the first Canadian to win the Canadian Open. That surpassed the time he kicked Phil Mickelson's ass in a mano-y-mano battle at Pebble Beach in 2020. Sunday's performance in Phoenix won't quite reach national-hero status like he did last summer, but man…Nick Taylor knows how to close a golf tournament. He found himself three shots back of 47-year-old Charley Hoffman with just four holes left to play. Hoffman, a longtime WM ambassador and Scottsdale resident, had turned back the clock and put on a four-hour flush-fest. He has an aspirationally simple golf swing, and looked to have done enough to win for the first time in nearly eight years when he tapped in for a closing 64. Taylor would need to play his final four holes in three under to get into a playoff.
He did exactly that.
It started on the par-5 15th, where a stiff headwind kept the not-bomber Taylor from going for the green in two. He laid up to 81 yards and hit a dart to three feet. Birdie number one. He stepped into the coliseum surrounding No. 16 and hit yet another beauty to just inside six feet. Birdie number two. He actually failed to birdie the drivable par-4 17th after a very indifferent pitch from just short of the green, which meant he needed a birdie 3 on 18 to send it to extras. It looked unlikely when he pushed his tee shot toward a fairway bunker but it bounced over the bunker and into a manageable lie in the rough. From there, he played a beauty right over the flag to 10 feet and snuck in the birdie effort juuuuust inside the right lip. The putt looked like it would miss on the low side before taking a mini-bobble to the left and catching the edge.
Hoffman and Taylor traded birdies on the first playoff hole, which was also the 18th, and were in danger of having to come back Monday morning if they didn't settle it soon. Taylor made sure of that with yet another birdie, his fifth in his last six holes, to polish off his fifth PGA Tour victory and move to a career-high No. 28 in the world. And, just like he did in Canada, he slammed that damn putter into the green.
This was yet another example of the remarkable depth on the PGA Tour—a year after Taylor finished solo second to world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, Taylor and world No. 300 Charley Hoffman both beat out Scheffler down the stretch to produce an electric playoff of their own. You simply never know who's going to emerge from the pack on any given week and give the top players in a world a run for their money. What a victory for the 35-year-old Taylor, who also resides in the Scottsdale area.
It's a Tiger week
Tiger Woods will make his first tournament appearance since the Hero World Challenge and his first official PGA Tour start since last year's Masters when he serves as player-host of this week's Genesis Invitational. It's always a busy week for Woods, whose foundation benefits from the event at Riviera, but especially so this week given the expected launch of his new clothing brand on Monday evening.
Woods said at the Hero that he hoped to play a roughly once-a-month cadence moving forward, and his leg and gait looked much-improved in the Bahamas after the subtalar ankle fusion surgery he had done after withdrawing from the Masters. Woods beat just two players that week and showed significant rust, but he had plenty of speed and, most importantly, his body didn't visibly deteriorate as the week wore on. He had just as much speed on Sunday as he did on Friday, and his walk looked virtually the same. This week will go a long way toward informing Woods' golfing future. He's had a few months to recover and hit the gym, and if he's going to challenge to win tournaments or…stick with us…even major championships, he's going to need to show sustained improvement. That's the thing about his comeback from spinal fusion surgery in 2018-19: it happened in stages. He came back, looked good physically, had speed. Then he semi-contended in a normal tour event. Then he contended in a normal tour event. Then he contended in a major. Then he won a normal tour event. Then he won a major. Woods played 18 events in 2018 and the Masters victory in 2019 was his sixth start of that calendar year. Even Tiger needs to find a competitive rhythm. That's possible playing once a month. It's not playing just the majors, on the hardest courses, against the best players.
On the plus side, Riviera's an easy walk. You tip-toe down a huge hill after the first tee shot and you walk back up that hill after the last tee shot but between those two it's pretty damn flat. On the negative side, there's never been a course that's flummoxed Woods like Riviera has. This will mark his 15th start at Riviera and he's yet to win there.
Woods will also have a new bagman beside him this week in Lance Bennett, a longtime tour caddie who has worked for Matt Kuchar, Bill Haas, Lorena Ochoa and Juli Inkster in the past. Woods used his business partner/best pal Rob McNamara at the Hero as a fill-in but has always preferred to have a full-time experienced caddie with him. His first full-timer was Fluff Cowan, then Steve Williams, then Joe LaCava. All those guys had worked for major winners before picking up Woods' bag. Adam Schupak, who had the news of Woods' new caddie first, reported that Woods could experiment with a few different caddies this year. That at least means he's planning to pay more. Good news all around.
—Dustin Johnson won the second LIV event of the year in Las Vegas, which didn't get nearly as much juice as the first LIV event in Mexico. This one didn't have the benefit of a football-free weekend and a Sunday without competing with the PGA Tour. The LIV event wrapped up on Saturday to get out of town before the Super Bowl madness, and DJ emerged from a leaderboard that included Jon Rahm—who bobbled down the stretch for the second straight week. Rahmbo hit a cold-hard shank with four holes to play which led to a crushing bogey on a par 5.
Johnson said he barely touched a club during LIV’s offseason. Was genuinely surprised at his T5 finish in Mexico. Just won the Vegas event. $4.7 million just in individual earnings in first 2 events.
—The Good Good Desert Open at Grass Clippings in Tempe, AZ was a huge success—and I'm not just saying that because Wilcox and I finished solo second. There were 2500-plus people there on a freezing golf night, the energy on site was electric and the live stream on YouTube peaked at nearly 100,000 viewers. There is serious, serious positive momentum in the YouTube golf creator space and I fully expect more events like this to pop up in the future.
I'll also henceforth be known as Dan Clappaport.
—Not one, but two sub-60 rounds on the Korn Ferry Tour this week. The first came from Cristobol Del Solar, who shot a 13-under 57 to post the lowest round even in a PGA Tour sanctioned tournament. Then 20-year-old Aldrich Potgieter fired a 59 of his own. Some context here: the course played just over 6,200 yards and sits at 8,600 feet of elevation, so it was basically a pitch and putt for these guys. Brentley Romine of the Golf Channel got Del Solar on the phone and had him walk through the round, and this wasn't exactly Oakmont they were playing.
—Luke Kerr Dineen of Golf Digest, who crushes it on the instruction beat, had this amazing breakdown of Del Solar's swing transformation. That swing producing a 57 shows it's not about how it looks.
—Yet another top-six finish for Scottie Scheffler—that's his 16th top-six finish in 23 starts dating back to last year's WM Phoenix Open victory. That's…hard to fathom.
—Another great week for Justin Thomas, who's firmly back. He's finished T12 or better in each of his last seven starts.
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