Fan-Demonium: Up Close & Personal at WMPO’s 16th
Hole-in-ones are rare on the raucous 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale during the WM Phoenix Open. Since Tiger famously dunked one there back in 1997, only four had been recorded prior to 2022. Then, during the Saturday round this year, when the hole was in peak party mode, Sam Ryder stepped to the tee. When he hit his 54-degree wedge onto the green and spun it into the cup, bedlam ensued.
I was standing 30 feet to his right, and the roar was deafening, and very cool. Then I noticed ice cubes hitting the ground around me, followed by Coors Light and Dasani water cans that had been flung from the corporate suites three stories above the tee. I regularly search for shade on Arizona courses, but I’ve never had to look for a place to actually take cover.
The Fan Code of Conduct on the tournament website states in part: “Fans will enjoy the WM Phoenix Open free from disruptive behavior including, but not limited to, FOUL OR ABUSIVE LANGUAGE, obscene gestures, fighting, throwing objects, [or] attempting to disrupt play or dis-tract Tournament Players from their professional game.”
Well, play was very much disrupted after Ryder’s shot. Just ask Brian Harman. He had to wait almost 20 minutes to hit his tee shot after the chaos. Even signage around TPC Scottsdale promotes this theme: “Respect the Fans, Respect the Players, Respect the Game.” Sound advice completely ignored that day, and again on Sunday when Carlos Ortiz also aced the 16th.
Yet it could have been worse. Imagine a player getting injured by a flying projectile. Or if the final group, with two co-leaders, comes to 16. Player A aces the hole. Player B then has to wait 20 minutes for debris to be cleaned from the hole. That’s like an NFL coach calling 10 consecutive timeouts to ice a field-goal kicker. If either scenario actually happens, something will change. Until then, I predict nothing will.
Ban alcohol sales? Doubtful. Way too much money to be made there. Using only plastic cups on the hole? Maybe. They certainly won’t fly as far. Install netting in front of the fans, like MLB stadiums have along the foul lines? Not when companies shell out $155,000 for a week in a Skybox Loge Suite overlooking the hole. Kick out everyone who throws something onto the hole? You’re talking about hundreds of people. Good luck with that. The 16th hole has, almost by design, become an uncontrollable beast.
But the PGA Tour and the Thunderbirds — a Phoenix-based organization that hosts the tournament — know the odds are in their favor with only six aces in the past 25 years. They don’t approve of the littering, but the outsized spectacle, plus the instant social media attention, must be worth the exception to them every few years.
To the fans present for future aces, I say: If you want to spray yourself and your buddies with overpriced beer at your seats (or suites), go right ahead. Scream like you hit the shot yourself? Let ’er rip. But throw stuff onto the hole? Please make that sight even more rare than a hole-in-one.