WM Phoenix Open memorable moments: Beer showers, Tiger, Phil, Rickie
Ready to party?
It’s time for golf’s grandest fiesta — the WM Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale. This year, the festivities will arguably be the biggest ever, with 22 of the top 25 players in the world in attendance as it’s the PGA Tour’s first full-field designated event.
But before we embark on a week of dancing in the desert, let’s reflect on some of the WM Phoenix Open’s most memorable moments of yesteryear.
Cleanup on aisle 16
Some of the event’s unruliest moments came just a year ago at golf’s rowdy epicenter.
It started on Saturday when Sam Ryder aced the par-3 16th — the hole’s first since 2015 — sparking a beer shower from 20,000 fans in the hole’s grandstand, causing a 10-minute delay in play.
The next day, things turned up a notch inside the coliseum.
Another beer shower ensued when Carlos Ortiz made an ace; he said he was hit in the back with a flying beer can.
Shortly after that, Harry Higgs and Joel Dahmen incited the masses when they went shirtless following a couple of pars — which Higgs may have been fined for.
No. 16 is the only hole on Tour where such madness can occur, but with golf typically a gentleman’s game, the beer showers are a polarizing topic.
“The beer getting thrown on the green is more just inconvenient for pace of play’s sake and obviously dangerous, people getting hit and whatnot,” Justin Thomas said after last year’s final round. “The loudness, the yelling, that’s a part of it, it’s all fun and games. Some people like it, some don’t … I enjoy it. It’s a cool opportunity. But the beer throwing gets a little dicey sometimes.”
Tiger’s ace, boulder, yips in the desert
There aren’t many Tour events that Tiger Woods hasn’t won — the WMPO is one of the few. However, he has his share of memorable moments in the desert.
Speaking of aces on No. 16, the most famous one came from Woods in 1997, before the coliseum was built. And the fans, like in 2021, went nuts when the 21-year-old Woods dropped his ball in the cup after one swing with a “nice comfortable 9-iron.”
“Back in ’97, they didn’t have the bleachers like they did around the tee box,” Woods said in 2015. “It was a hill and people were partying. … The guys who were playing behind me, they had some pretty wet lies. It was a different ballgame back then.”
It was Woods’ second of three career aces on Tour. His third came later in ’97 at the Spirit International.
Two years later, Woods drove his tee shot on the par-5 13th hole left and behind a boulder. Taking advantage of decision 23-1/3, fans helped him move the “loose impediment,” giving him a clear look to the green. Woods made birdie.
Woods didn’t return to golf’s biggest party for 14 years, but when he did in 2015, he had nothing to celebrate.
Woods was battled the chipping yips and shot a career-worst 82 on Day 2. Afterward, Woods addressed the media by saying, “I’m just doing this so I don’t get fined.” Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks used the same line a few days earlier at Super Bowl media day, which was also in Phoenix.
King of the Desert
Of Johnny Miller’s 25 Tour wins, eight came in the desert. Four at the Tuscon Open, two Bob Hopes and two in Phoenix, earning him “The Desert Fox” nickname.
Miller won the 1974 Phoenix Open and then went back-to-back, torching the field in ’75 for a 14-stroke victory. His 24-under 260 was the second-lowest 72-hole total in Tour history at the time. Mike Souchak originally set the record in 1955 with a 257.
“(Miller is) the greatest golfer in the world, there’s no doubt about it,” Jerry Heard said that week after finishing runner-up. “I never thought I’d see anyone greater than [Jack] Nicklaus, but I believe that if Nicklaus is at his best and Johnny is at his best, Johnny would win now.”
The following week, Miller won in Tucson by nine strokes. He won 15 times between 1974-76.
Miller went on to be one of the Tour’s signature broadcasters. When he retired from his 29-year broadcasting career in 2019, he chose TPC Scottsdale for his swan song.
“I’ve always had a great feeling about Arizona and I don’t know what it is about Arizona but I just love being in Arizona, maybe not in July, but I like Arizona,” Miller told ESPN in 2019.
Rickie Fowler has a love-hate relationship with the WMPO.
In 2016, Fowler had a two-shot lead in the final round heading to the par-4 17th. However, he pulled his tee shot into the water and fell into a playoff with Hideki Matsuyama. On the fourth extra hole, Fowler fumbled the victory by again hitting into the water on 17.
The loss stung — a lot.
“The hard part is having all my friends and family and grandpa and my dad who haven’t seen me win,” Fowler said tearing up afterward. “I’ll be all right. With how good I’m playing, I know I can win. That’s the hard part.”
In 2019, Fowler got his redemption — but not without a watery triple-bogey 7 on No. 11 where “pretty much everything that could go wrong went wrong,” Fowler said.
With a shot-five lead on the par-4 11th, Fowler found the water twice, first with his chip and another after “natural forces” caused his ball to roll back in the water after his drop. Because he had to again remove the ball from the penalty area, he was assessed an additional one-stroke penalty. His lead was down to one.
By No. 13, Fowler trailed Brendan Grace by a stroke. However, Fowler would take back the lead on No. 17 — where he endured his 2016 heartbreak — and hold on for victory. His father and grandfather would finally see him win person.
“I hope I never have to go through that again,” Folwer said after closing with a 3-over 74 en route to victory.
Phil’s second home
Phil Mickelson boasts a few WMPO records — to say the least.
The Arizona State product made his debut at the event in 1989 and played it every year from 1991-2019. His 30 starts are the most all-time and he’s won it on three occasions, tied with Mark Calcavecchia, Gene Littler and Arnold Palmer for the most ever.
Mickelson’s first triumph came in 1996, when he epically bested Justin Leonard on the third playoff hole.
“This is the tournament I wanted to win the most,” Mickelson said securing the victory.
In 2005, he rode a second-round 60 to a win. In 2013, Mickelson flirted with a sub-60 round on Thursday, however, his putt for 59 lipped out. He’d match the tournament scoring record (28 under) that week in a four-shot victory.
Mickelson has seen the event grow as much as anyone. Heck, he played the event five times before Jon Rahm was even born. When Mickelson made his debut there, 347,000 fans attended. This year, there might be a half-million more than that. The event will gloat a $20 million purse this week. In 1989, it was $200,000.
“(The tournament) became something bigger and larger than I think I ever thought possible,” Mickelson said in 2019.
In 2023, golf’s biggest party will be larger than ever. Mickelson, however, won’t be there this year, or maybe ever again.