The Week Grip — If You Think the Phoenix Open is Bad for Golf, You’re Wrong
Welcome to the sixth installment of the Week Grip! Click here for the others, and follow along throughout 2019.
The marquee event this week in the world of golf is the Waste Management Phoenix Open. If you know anything about this tournament, you’ll know that it more than lives up to its reputation as a hard-drinking, four-day tailgate, through which a golf tournament occasionally meanders. It’s over-the-top, it’s needlessly commercialized, and it enables every golf bro with some disposable income to bust out their favorite Loudmouth shirt, pop six Coors Lights before noon, and tell anyone who’ll listen that John Daly is the best golfer of all time, behind Tiger, who actually had his spine fused together, man, how fuckin’ crazy is that?
You’ll find any number of #takes decrying the event, saying it serves as a poor example to those outside the golf world and that it doesn’t hold true to the spirit of the game.
I’ll direct those people to the words of G-Baby, the Boy King of Hardball.
The Waste(d) Management Phoenix Open is good for golf, full stop. How? Let me count the ways.
If Steve Harvey and his curling-broom mustache stood at the Family Feud podium and bellowed, “We asked 100 people, name an adjective that describes the game of golf,” which words do you think that century of citizens would have produced?
Sadly, choose-your-own-adventure-style Family Feud doesn’t exist yet. But Google suggestions do, and they work almost the same way. To wit:
A mixed bag. What if we add “so”?
See those blue dots? I’m guessing that’s the line of logic our fictional Feud friends would follow. Boring, expensive, difficult, and pretentious. For the purposes of this argument, I’m adding exclusionary in there as well.
Now, have a look at these photos and videos, and tell me if the words “boring” or “pretentious” enter your mind at all.
Golf does not get much visibility in the wider sports world, to say nothing of popular culture in general. The running joke for the past few years is that the WMPO inevitably finishes in a playoff, which runs up against the beginning of the Super Bowl (as the tournament has been played during Super Bowl week since 1973). In 2009, the stars aligned in an unholy manner, and the Kenny Perry — Charley Hoffman playoff on NBC actually did preclude the nation’s public from watching the start of Super Bowl XLIII, which happened to include the hometown Arizona Cardinals. The event is now broadcast on CBS when NBC has the Super Bowl, and vice versa, to eliminate this.
But again, golf has to scratch and claw for every 30-second hit on Sportscenter, competing with the likes of NASCAR and soccer (lol JK) for the title of America’s fifth-favorite sport. Super Bowl Sunday is inarguably the biggest sports-watching day of the year (not to mention one of the biggest days for drinking and indulging in unhealthy food), so the fact that the PGA Tour’s Super Bowl-week event comes soaked with cheap beer and raucous fan behavior lines up perfectly. All those “normal” sports fans enjoying their football can feel a kinship of sorts with the folks who attend the WMPO, thinking that golf must not be all that boring — look at how much fun those guys are having at 16!
It’s a stark departure from the other times that golf is thrust into the national consciousness. For example: last season’s Farmer’s Insurance Open, which ran long due to J.B. Holmes’s glacial play. Viewers tuning in to watch the damn Grammy Awards were instead treated to ol’ John Bradley Holmes spending four minutes and ten seconds, or longer than most pop songs, deliberating on his second shot into the 18th hole. Only to lay up.
Imagine you’re totally ambivalent on golf and just want to see which radio megastar drank too much before their acceptance speech. You flip on the TV, and you’re forced to watch an overweight dude stump around an overpriced, overwatered golf course for an interminable amount of time before hitting an unexciting shot? You’re out on golf for life.
While not that egregious, the only other times when golf worms its way into the collective consciousness (other than when Tiger runs over a hydrant, bangs a Perkins waitress, or picks up a DUI), are during the four majors. And really, very few people care about the PGA. So we’re left with the Masters, U.S. Open, and Open Championship.
All of these events are dissected endlessly by folks inside golf, and each projects a unique vibe and identity that golf fans understand innately. But think about how the general public views these events.
The Masters is played at Augusta National, one of the most inaccessible private clubs on planet Earth. Let’s just say that it’s not a communist regime, but they do have a chairman. Remember that tweet above, from Jason Sobel? Well, it led to this stampede, which happens at the 16th hole every year (and which I fully support).
At Augusta, actual Pinkerton security guards patrol the grounds, and anyone caught running is frog-marched off property. It’s the most famous golf tournament in the world, and it presents a version of golf (immaculate grounds, hushed galleries, piped-in birdsong) completely alien to the golfing public. When a guy tees it up on 16 at Phoenix, he’ll have to step away while the heckling about his alma mater’s football scandal and Instagram model girlfriend dies down. Sure, the topics are different for the weekend hacker, but show me someone who’s never used psychological warfare on the golf course, and I’ll show you a liar.
And the U.S. and British Opens, when they’re not patronizing the uber-private Shinnecocks and Oakmonts of the world, aren’t exactly parachuting in to your local muni. A round at Chambers Bay, the 2015 U.S. Open host on the Washington coast, will run out-of-staters $275 during peak season. 2017’s Erin Hills — $295. 2019’s Pebble Beach — a cool $525. Similarly, Open Championship courses are nearly all public, but require a Transatlantic flight and some serious outlay for Yanks to trod their ould sod.
I guess what I’m saying is that the Phoenix Open hews closer to the spirit of the game today than any other professional tournament. Golf should be fun, and it should be played among friends, and if you’re that sort of person, I don’t see why those friends can’t enjoy a couple adult beverages. If it takes this kind of over-the-top tomfoolery for golf to break into the mainstream sports discussion, at least it’s doing so in a way that doesn’t induce a nap.