WMPO basks in 'magical moment,' but assessing safety measures

There was a lot to enjoy about the WM Phoenix Open's hole-in-one celebrations, but Thunderbirds executive director Chance Cozby says throwing beer cans was not one

Waste Management Phoenix Open 2022
Brooks Koepka putts on the 16th green during the final round of the 2022 WM Phoenix Open. The 16th hole's stadium-like configuration can hold 17,000 fans.

Like the thousands of spectators who spontaneously reacted in the moment as Sam Ryder’s tee shot rolled into the cup for a hole-in-one on Saturday at the WM Phoenix Open, Chance Cozby could not help himself.

The executive director of the Thunderbirds, the civic organization that hosts the WMPO, didn’t spray his co-workers with beer as those surrounding the 16th green did, but Cozby did acknowledge that he let loose of his cell phone in celebration.

Cozby was in the tournament office, which is adjacent to the TPC Scottsdale course, with his staff when all hell broke loose.

"It was just a magical moment," Cozby said in a phone interview Tuesday as his team assesses a wild week capped by Scottie Scheffler’s playoff victory over Patrick Cantlay. "We didn’t know all the beer cans were going to be flying, to be honest.

"But when Tiger (Woods) did that (in 1997) that is also what happened. At the end of the day, there’s a safety element to that we want to be better at. But that was an iconic moment for our tournament and for the sport. It was an amazing Saturday."

Cozby said as soon as he saw the debris, he directed his staff to clean it all up, and security was deployed to the area. They were better prepared for that unusual occurrence on Sunday when Carlos Ortiz also made an ace on the same hole.

The tournament had not seen a hole-in-one at the famous 16th hole since Francesco Molinari did it in 2015.

This year saw a return of robust crowds after attendance was limited to about 5,000 people per day in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Cozby said the tournament has not kept attendance figures since 2018, when it reported there were 218,000 for Saturday’s third round alone. He said the 16th hole can have as many as 17,000 spectators.

"Our fans have such a good time," he said. "It is an incredible atmosphere. But what we didn’t like is random beer cans flying out of the stands. It was a little bit lower key with Carlos Ortiz. It took us about 10 minutes on Saturday and we got it cleaned up much quicker Sunday.

"Then you have the shirts coming off (both Harry Higgs and Joel Dahmen at the 16th on Sunday). That spurred things on a little bit. I wouldn’t say there wasn’t anything we didn’t like about it. We do want to put measures in place in ’23 that we protect everybody there and make sure there are no injuries to anyone on the ground."

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Cantlay said he enjoys the atmosphere but is quick to point out it would not work every week.

"It would be hard to imagine beer cans getting thrown on the greens every week," he said. "Somehow I just don't see it happening. There are obviously pros and cons. Like I said, it's great to have people excited about golf, and maybe the answer is to have more exciting events around golf tournaments to be able to get people to come out and watch the golf, but that is not my expertise. I am not an expert at running golf tournaments, I'm an expert at playing in them, so we'll see. I think it will be interesting to see if more tournaments try and follow that model."

One fan of the action was Collin Morikawa, who did not play the tournament but wished he had been there.

"I loved it," said Morikawa, from this week’s Genesis Invitational. "I had a million of my friends go out there that don't even care about golf and they're asking why I wasn't out there. You're bringing people in that don't love golf but they love sports and that's what needs to grow, right? That's how we bring more people in, learn about this game.

"I wish I was there just to see it and just to hear it because to have two holes-in-one, that's as impressive as it gets. But you bring more people in that really don't see what golf is like, then you see people going crazy. It doesn't mean you have to throw beer cans every week, but just to see the excitement that you see, right? That's what you want to see. And that's what's really cool. I think a lot of younger kids might see what's going on, see the thrill, the excitement of making a hole-in-one, of showing off to the crowd, maybe that's what they want to do one day.

"For us growing up, like we want to make putts, right? We're practicing making putts on the last hole on a putting green to win a major, right? That's what we do as a little kid. Maybe a little kid will be like, ‘I want to be on 16 at TPC Scottsdale and make a hole-in-one.’ So, hopefully it just grows the game a little bit more and brings more people involved, but I think it's awesome."