‘It was Saturday at the Phoenix Open’: Gassed golfers, pressed patrons highlight chaotic Day 3

A large group of fans at the WM Phoenix Open were temporarily denied entry into TPC Scottsdale Saturday afternoon due to full capacity inside the gates. (Photo by Scott Sandulli/Cronkite News)

Akshay Bhatia throws a ball to fans on the 16th green at the WM Phoenix Open Friday. Bhatia missed the cut with a 4-over par. (Photo by Ethan Briggs/Cronkite News)

Gary Woodland tees off at the beginning of the third round at the WM Phoenix Open Saturday. Woodland struggled to a 4-over par and failed to make the cut. (Photo by Ethan Briggs/Cronkite News)

Some fans left the WM Phoenix Open Saturday after alcohol sales were temporarily cut off. (Photo by Ethan Riggs/Cronkite News)

SCOTTSDALE – Often a sunny escape from the chilly early events of the PGA Tour, the WM Phoenix Open has not delivered such favorable conditions in 2024. All three days of play have been delayed by inclement weather, forcing nearly half of the tournament’s competitors to finish their second round Saturday.

After Mother Nature made her name known at TPC Scottsdale in recent days, it was the raucous fans’ turn to take the headlines in all the wrong ways.

As play was mostly uninterrupted Saturday, the famous fan experience was another matter, as an overflow of general admission ticket sales caused a temporary closure of the gates in the afternoon, keeping hundreds of fans from entering in an unprecedented move by Thunderbirds Charities, the organizers of the Phoenix Open, and the PGA.

The large turnout and precautionary concerns led to a decision intended to help preserve the tournament’s one-of-a-kind atmosphere, said Ryan Woodcock, the director of communications for the WM Phoenix Open.

“We’ve never done that in the history of the tournament,” he said. “I don’t think to our Thunderbird officials it’s that surprising. Last week, we put a cap on Saturday general admission tickets; on Monday of this week, we did the same for Friday. … This golf course could hold way more people, but it’s about parking, getting in and out, lines being too congested, getting people around, and keeping the fan experience good. Probably a little bit of safety issues, too.

“While we have a big property, everyone congregates around 16, 17 and 18. It gets so full around those areas that we need to lighten up the load.”

On Friday, fans posted on social media that they were stuck between 15 and 16 for nearly an hour because of large mud holes from recent rains. Many have also complained about shuttle bus issues after rain took away 300 parking spots, forcing tournament organizers to divert fans to other lots.

“It’s been a rough week,” Thunderbirds executive director Chance Cozby told NBC’s Dan Hicks on Saturday. “Arizona has not been Arizona this week.”

The tournament also cut off alcohol sales at many locations in the afternoon, prompting random chants of “we want beer.” But most of the frustration came from outside the gates.

“Been waiting for hours, it’s been brutal,” said Gianni Fontana, one of the fans waiting to go inside. “I paid a lot of money for these tickets, and the fact that they can’t let us common folks and citizens of Scottsdale in, I think it’s quite unbelievable. I’ve gone for the last three years, and now they’re not letting us in because I don’t know. They feel like they’re at capacity, but the golf course has plenty of room for all of us.”

Rain early in the week set in motion challenges the Thunderbirds faced in their attempt to keep the tournament running smoothly. Approximately 3,000 parking spot were suddenly unavailable because of the weather. (Photo by Alyssa Buruato/Cronkite News)

Jacob Bleimeyer, another fan waiting for the tournament to reopen, said, “Paid for the tickets, and we’re not able to go in, it’s upsetting, to say the least.”

Woodcock was notified of the decision at 1:45 p.m. Arizona time, just minutes after the conclusion of the tournament’s second round and less than an hour before the beginning of the third round.

“It’s insane,” said Jared Blinder, a golf fan in town for a bachelor party. “It’s the Waste Management (Phoenix) Open. It’s known for being a party.”

The Phoenix Open has not announced attendance totals since the 2018 tournament, which featured the largest single-day crowd of well over 200,000 patrons on Saturday’s third round. Considering that this Saturday was the first instance when attendance and alcohol limitations had to be placed, surely that mark was surpassed this weekend.

As wild events unfolded outside the ropes, a fair share of surprises continued inside them.

While back-to-back Phoenix Open champion Scottie Scheffler, along with world top-20 players Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and Wyndham Clark, finished the day within five strokes of the lead, world No. 7 (OWGR) Max Homa missed the cut after finishing at a 142 through two rounds, two strokes over the 140 cut line, along with Rickie Fowler and Cameron Champ.

On the brighter side of the unexpected, Canadian Nick Taylor built upon a strong first round to maintain a one-stroke lead on the field at -13 through the conclusion of play on Saturday, while unranked and unheralded players in Doug Ghim and Andrew Novak remain in a tie for third at 11 under, two shots behind Taylor.

Up to midday Saturday, the leaderboard featured a jumble of the usual contenders and rising stars. With the unconventional schedule caused by the weather, which was pointed out as a hindrance by many on the course, the door was open for a fascinating four days of golf.

“The first day was just a straight endurance test, trying to not have an explosion hole with the conditions,” Sahith Theegala said. “Then today after the first few holes of the day, we got some scorable conditions. It was still freezing until like hole 6 or 7, but we finally got some very scorable conditions. No wind, soft greens, which is rare for out here. I’m used to playing like 10 yards of skip with a pitching wedge. Now we’re flying pitching wedge past the hole.”

Jordan Spieth said, “It was obviously not the better end of the draw. It’ll be 25 holes today and 27 tomorrow.”

With an extensive yet exciting final round coming Sunday, Woodcock believes that even with the tournament title on the line, Sunday will go smoother.

“We don’t anticipate having that tomorrow,” he said. “Friday and Saturday are historically our two biggest days. … It’s unfortunate that it happened, but at the same time, it does show this event’s popularity.”

Spieth has seen firsthand that popularity. His reaction to the chaos?

“It was Saturday at the Phoenix Open.”

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Scott Sandulli expects to graduate in May 2025 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Sandulli has interned as a staff writer for affiliates of Rivals and SB Nation

Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Alyssa Buruato expects to graduate in May 2025 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Buruato has interned as a photographer at Phoenix Magazine and is a photo intern with Sun Devil Athletics.

Ethan Briggs(he/him/his)
Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Ethan Briggs expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Briggs has worked with Blaze Radio for three years.