Drunken mayhem in Phoenix shows that golf, in its rush to modernise and attract younger crowds, must decide what it wants to be
: USA TODAY Sports/Joe Rondone
“Jumping the Shark” might have taken on a new connotation in the chaotic last few years of professional male golf – after all, there must have been many a PGA Tour official who felt like accosting Greg Norman in a dark alley.
Yet in Arizona on the weekend, the true meaning of the phrase was witnessed in all its shameful glory.
The term was coined after an episode of Happy Days from 1977. On waterskis, The Fonz jumped over a shark. The Fonz was cool, no doubt, but this was over-the-top. And not just of Jaws. The scriptwriters had finally lost the plot and the record-breaking show went downhill. The ridiculousness had outperformed the humour and there was no way back.
Many of us felt the same seeing the footage, either live or on social media, from the Waste Management Phoenix Open. It is easily the most attended golf event in existence, making The Open Championship seem like a walk in the park (which, of course, it essentially is).
At Scottsdale TPC there were drunken fans fighting, drunken fans pushing through the gates, drunken fans falling out of grandstands, drunken fans ripping off their tops and leaping into bunkers, drunken fans urinating, drunken fans blacking out and being carted away in ambulances, drunken fans being arrested….
Of course not all drunken fans go to that extent – many behave and don’t cause any trouble.
But through all this mayhem there were sober golfers being heckled by drunken fans and asking themselves how they had ended up as the brunt of all this debauchery. As Mark Twain might have said, it was a good ruckus spoiled.
Norman, the Great White Shark, himself, must have been looking on and wondering ‘is this what I want LIV to be?’. The motto of the Saudi-funded circuit, of which Norman is chief executive, is “Golf But Louder”. So there you go. LIV unashamedly wants to attract a younger audience, because at the moment the average age of the US PGA Tour TV audience is over 60.
And even if those 60-year-olds do get to live longer than some of those crazed idiots at the TPC, we are still not talking about the future are we? To become relevant and profitable LIV is attempting to entice the next generation and has, itself, sought to copy Phoenix with its own party holes. Be careful what you wish for, perhaps.
But then, LIV is not alone in this pursuit. It seems every other stop on the Tour nowadays has “a party hole” which tries to emulate the infamous par-three 16th at Phoenix, where most, but not all, of the bad behaviour takes place at “The Wasted Open”.
Officials often dismiss the WMPO as a “one off” but that is only the case because no other tournament promoters are able to attract the wider public to such a degree. With more than 700,000 through the turnstiles, and one million beers sold each year, Phoenix is the phenomenon they all want to imitate. Without the nastiness, of course.
The wider you spread the net, the less the public knows about golf
Except, if a tournament is successful in becoming a golfing Glastonbury, it is impossible to have the vice without depravity. It will tip over eventually.
And therein lies the issue. The problem with the wider public is that the wider you spread that net, the less that public knows about golf and the etiquette of the sport. They are not fans of golf per se, but fans of the occasion and all the fun to be had when the circus comes to their town.
They are there essentially to have a laugh and show off in front of their mates and their girlfriends and with the bars opening at sunrise there is ample opportunity for a bit of tomfoolery, that might start off as harmless and be considered amusing, but as the line of what is deemed acceptable is shunted back year by year, it inevitably descends into something ugly and dangerous. “A s---show,” was the description of Korean pro Byeong Hun An. Quite.
This is the football experience but all day long. It is Cheltenham, but with morning races and morning grog and morning vomiting thrown in. It is not like Wimbledon when you have to stay in your seat and obey the rules if you actually want to watch the action.
Over an expanse of hundreds of acres largely policed by volunteer marshals, the hedonists can roam wherever, beer in hand from 7.30am and a whole cast list of cosseted millionaires to slag off in front of their ever glazed eyes. What could possibly go wrong?
More from Golf
More from The Telegraph