It May Be The Biggest But It Is Not The Best
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
TOURNAMENT sponsors look on with envy at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, held in the Arizona desert every February and attracting a scarcely credible 600,000 spectators. To put it in perspective, the R&A would be thrilled if it knew that The Open was going to pull in 130,000 paying fans every year.
On the second day in Phoenix, almost 170,000 people poured through the gates to get their fix. The thing is that their idea of a fix may be somewhat different to the average golf fan's idea of a good day out at a tournament watching the best golfers in the world.
If you hit a poor shot at the Phoenix Open, you can be certain that the crowd will let you know. And if you miss the green at the par-three 16th, surrounded by more than 25,000 baying spectators, you can count on the fact that they will heartily boo you every step of the way. Fail to get up and down in two on the 16th, and they will boo you again.
Bubba Watson had the temerity to criticise changes to the course at TPC Scottsdale. Other players were also unhappy about work done on the course, but wisely chose to keep their thoughts to themselves. Watson found himself jeered at every step and, in the end, was forced into a humiliating climbdown and a public apology. This was all the worse because everybody knew he didn't mean it.
Players routinely have to walk away from shots, distracted by crowd noise as they prepare to pull the trigger. The patrons at the 16th spend all day, every day drinking beer - this is not the way you would recommend that anybody spends their time while sitting in the sun in temperatures in excess of 80F. So of course they are going to be rowdy. Throw into the mix the fact that the vast majority of the 600,000 who watch the tournament have never picked up a golf club and you get an idea of just how difficult it is to keep them quiet. Marshalls raise "Quiet Please" paddles, but nobody pays any attention.
We should not be surprised that players such as Phil Mickelson, Watson and Rickie Fowler have done well here. This is a blue-collar crowd, and they are what most of us what would describe as 'blue-collar golfers', men who have the ability to shut out the background noise while interacting with the rabble.
Would such a tournament ever work in Britain? Of course not. And there are several reasons. For a start, beer costs about £5 a pint at European Tour events - imagine how much it would cost the patrons to turn up at 9am and carry on drinking until the last player has gone through. And imagine the behaviour of the crowd by the time the leaders reached them. There is also the small matter of the British weather - in Arizona, they are all but guaranteed four days of sunshine. In Britain, we would be all but guaranteed four days of wind and rain.
Finally, there isn't a golf course in the country that could cope with the logistics of getting of 150,000 people in and out of the venue every day without causing 10-mile traffic jams. So, for the time being at least, Europe's finest golfers will be spared the ordeal of performing on home soil before the equivalent of a football crowd, with some questioning Rory McIlroy's parentage while others suggest the need for a visit to the optician after a missed putt. For that, we should all be truly thankful. It is fun to watch the Phoenix Open from a distance but, trust me, you wouldn't want it on your doorstep.
And can you even begin to imagine how many beer glasses and cans have to be cleared away after the last of the fans has departed the venue? There could be no more appropriate sponsor for this event than Waste Management, who probably make all their costs back through recycling from these four days!
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