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WM Phoenix Open leadership displeased with 2024 showing, says changes are on the horizon

Patrons of the WM Phoenix Open can expect to see changes to event next year.

To say the least, the 2024 showing left a bad impression on many folks, thanks to overcrowding, the halting of alcohol sales and admissions on Saturday and disagreements that broke out between spectators and golfers.

No one had a worse takeaway from the shenanigans over the weekend than the Thunderbirds, which is the organization that hosts the Phoenix Open.

According to Thunderbirds' executive director Chance Cozby, who spoke with the Golf Channel, the group spent nearly six hours together to assess the damage and gauge the changes that need to happen for a better showing moving forward.

"I think that you will see a complete operational change of how we manage, really, our Friday and Saturday, but the entire week," Cozby said via ESPN. "We're very proud of what we've built. I think, we've been tournament of the year on the PGA Tour five of the last seven years. But we don't like what happened on Saturday. The players don't like what happened on Saturday. Our fans don't like what happened on Saturday, and, so, nothing is off the table."

Cozby didn't explain if the suspension of alcohol sales stemmed from poor fan behavior, however. But players pulled no punches when discussing their takeaways from the tournament.

Just a few of the thousands in the gallery at the 16th hole during the continuation of the second round of the Phoenix Open golf tournament Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024, in Scottsdale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Thousands of people poured in for the Phoenix Open golf tournament, which caused some frustration among golfers and other patrons. (AP/Ross D. Franklin) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Especially since things did not improve on Sunday as Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson and Billy Horschel were both caught on video in tense exchanges with fans.

It led to Johnson being extremely critical of the Thunderbirds and what transpired when he spoke to the Arizona Republic.

"[They'll] probably need to do something about it," Johnson said. "I'm assuming they're ashamed.

"[It] has been inappropriate and crossed the line since I've been on tour, and this is my 21st year."

That issue only scratched the surface, and people tried to understand how the Phoenix Open, which has been played since 1987, could have so many major issues at once. Something that Cozby admitted contributed to this was that the Thunderbirds didn't adjust ticket sales for the weather.

As a state, Arizona typically receives seven to eight inches of rain annually. In the lead up to this year's Phoenix Open, the city had 1.14 inches, per the National Weather Service.

This led to TPC Scottsdale's grounds being drenched and muddy, and forced spectators to overuse the concrete paths along the course versus having their usual access to the grass.

"[It] really created significant congestion to where, ultimately, on Saturday we didn't do anything different from a ticketing or fan perspective as we've done in years past," Cozby said. "But since areas of the golf course were not usable, the decision was made by our security partners and our team to close the front gate, to close the concession stands, to close alcohol sales. We opened up all of our security blowouts on the entire course to safely remove our fans from the course and get everything back under control and try to get through that Saturday, which was a very tough day."

Nick Taylor ended up winning the WM Phoenix Open in a playoff thanks to a huge string of birdies late. It marked his fourth career win on Tour. And while he pulled off the win despite all of the chaos, he wasn't oblivious to it by any means. It's been an ongoing issue.

“I don’t think it’s a standalone [issue], it’s been like that for a bit,” Taylor said Tuesday at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles. “But I think the cat’s probably out of the bag. I don’t know how much they can change … You know, it’s a shame when only a very small percentage of the fans are like that, it gets exposed a bit, but the majority of the fans are great. They’re just trying to watch some good golf and cheer.”

As for what gets done to fix it, though, Taylor is at a loss.

“I think this year again with the weather, everybody kind of getting in the same area waiting around, it was probably a perfect storm to cause some of [those issues] a little more,” he said. “I’m not really sure how they would reel it back to be honest.”