SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — If there happens to be an ace on the 16th hole at the WM Phoenix Open this year, don’t expect beer cans to be flying. Beer in the air? Maybe! But no cans. And nothing thrown onto the putting surface, either.
At least, that’s the new vision that tournament officials here at TPC Scottsdale have undertaken. Last year’s unforgettable images of suds in the sky might be impossible to recreate, but it’s all in the name of player safety.
Tour players received a memo last week declaring all alcohol sales on the 16th hole will be distributed in green plastic glasses, deemed “commemorative cups,” adorned with the Coors logo and the official logo of the 16th hole seating area. Special as they may sound, they are mostly akin to what you get at any sporting event.
Thankfully, the price of beer hasn’t changed here at the festival-like golf tournament. Whereas in Old Town Scottsdale you can find yourself paying $14 for a High Noon seltzer, a beer in the 16th-hole stadium is still just $10 — a far cry from the $19 Stella Artois we saw at last year’s PGA Championship at Southern Hills.
For these exact reasons, the WM Phoenix Open is as rowdy as tournaments get, and players understand there is plenty of excitement to gain from leaning in to what makes the tournament different. That’s as long as they don’t get peppered with beer cans, which was the concern last year in the wake of Sam Ryder’s ace. And a day after Ryder sent beers into the sky (and many of those cans onto the 16th green), Justin Thomas chipped in for birdie and a similar scene played out.
“I didn’t want to see the water bottle coming straight for my head from the third story, but I did see it,” Jon Rahm said this week, reiterating what Rory McIlroy had said a year ago — that a line had been crossed a couple times.
“Hopefully those are things they rein back on and keep it strictly about the game,” Rahm continued. If he did his reading, Rahm would know that tournament officials have spelled out their goal for 2023: “prohibit any substance or item being thrown on the course.” In a kinder way, the tournament website reminds fans that these basic cups are commemorative, “so hold onto yours.”
Fans headed to the triple-decker bleachers on 16 can expect to see signage facing them asking to keep their drinks in their hands. The Thunderbirds, the local group that serves as tournament organizers, have promised a bigger presence in the general admission area of the arena, where the first beers were thrown last year.
It’s a significant development in tournament operations, and all a great plan…until an ace happens. That’s when the drinking-infused vibe that contributes so much to the tournament’s success will test any well-intentioned security plan.
Two golf buddies sat in the front row Wednesday afternoon, off to the right of the green. In year’s past, they definitely could have tossed a beer can onto the green, they said. They were there for Francesco Molinari’s ace in 2015 and were anxious for a reason to test the boundaries this year.
“There’s no way I can get this all the way there,” one said, unstacking the cups he had compiled through the day.
“We’re just going to have to throw our shoes instead,” his buddy said with a smile, lifting an injured leg. “Or this hospital boot.”