‘Leonard’s List’: The nature of heckling at the Phoenix Open’s 16th hole

Mike Leonard stands at the 16th hole of the Phoenix Open with a beer in hand, stretched out from his torso adorned by a tattered University of Minnesota football jersey. Gripped in his other hand is a piece of paper, slightly bent and folded with spotted stains and black permanent marker writing at the top: “Leonard’s List 2022.” He has extras for anyone who walks by.

Leonard’s list is a compilation of each of the 132 golfers at the tournament. It’s alphabetized. It lists each high school. It lists hometowns and colleges. It lists girlfriends. Caddie names. Caddie roommates. Caddie girlfriends. Hobbies. Favorite songs.

Wyndham Clark is listed as “Oregon, Valor Christian High School, graduated with Christian McCaffery, Broncos fan. Caddie – John Ellis, good at ping pong, favorite song ‘Big Poppa.’”

Matt Fitzpatrick’s listing is slightly different: “England, Northwestern, fan of Sheffield United F.C. Caddie – Billy Foster, family golden retriever Charlie.”

The list has been Leonard’s companion for 20 years in each of the 28-hour drives he has made from Minnesota to Phoenix. He first brought the list with him the second year he made the trip in his sophomore year in college, during a shorter semester when Leonard was only scheduled for one class.

“One class, not a lot of studying for that, and I put a lot of work in that initial list,” said Leonard. “They still take some hours of time, but my life’s changed a lot where I don’t necessarily have a lot of time to do it but I still try to spice it up as best as I can.

The 38-year-old personal wellness teacher at Chaska (Minn.) Middle School, said he doesn’t remember what kind of computer he used to type out the initial list but describes a clunky, turquoise-colored iMac G3 with a tight screen and depth. Back then, he said, you could easily find information on caddies and golfers – like how Keegan Bradley’s caddie always marks with a coin heads-up, or how Micah Fugitt lives in Las Vegas with Maverick McNealy.

“I thought it’d be kind of unique, too, with the internet role in the way it was in the early 2000s,” Leonard said. “We could research those lower-name guys and find their small colleges or high schools or whatever, and just try to get a reaction out of them.”

He stops to pull back his beer and take a long sip. He leans back, and he, along with his other friends, each wearing their own maroon and gold, begin to yell as the next golfer sets up to tee.

Leonard and his friends aren’t alone. Not in the drinking, and not with the yelling.

Chris Walsh and his wife, Jacqueline, drove 18 hours from Eugene, Oregon, to stand outside the Open’s gates at 3 a.m. just to have an opportunity to stand among the crowd.

They said they don’t watch golf regularly.

“This is a drinking competition,” Chris said. “There’s no golf here.”

David Bowers has worked the Open for the last 10 years. He had been stationed with a sign urging onlookers to be quiet on the first hole for his first eight years, and then he was asked to move to the 16th during a staff shortage in 2020.

Immediately, Bowers said, he fell in love with the hole’s boisterous atmosphere.

“I just fell in love with that,” Bowers said. “And just to the madness, the insanity of that whole thing … they’re getting rowdy and they’re having fun, but it’s all about respect to the game.”

While being quiet and “respectful” at most holes is a “respect thing that people understand,” the deafening cheers and jeers of the 16th “is the same thing.” The Saturday morning of Sam Ryder’s hole-in-one, the first on the hole since Francesco Molinari in 2015, fans were throwing beers onto the green and orchestrating singalongs and chants

Before being showered with beer, water and cocktails and avoiding a ketchup-smeared hot dog after Ryder’s ace, Bowers was excited to be surrounded by fans.

“You really can’t ask for this kind of feeling anywhere else,” Bowers said. “Sometimes you forget that you’re at a golf tournament.”

Bowers will raise his hands up with the sign he knows fans will ignore and that some golfers, like John Rahm and Rickie Fowler, will openly oppose.

Rahm and Fowler will approach the tee, Bowers said, “and they were raising their hands up trying to get the crowd pumped. And at that point, you do what they want and you just play off the golfers and what they want.

“If they want it loud, let it be loud. If they want it respectful, then you try to do what you can.”

You try to do what you can – beers, cocktails arching into the Phoenix sun, mentions of a caddie’s girlfriend’s love of hot yoga and chants of “U.S.A.,” “Rickie” and Bon Jovi melodies mashing together.

The tunnel is also wrapped in anticipation for approaching golfers, Thunderbird Dan Fox said.

“Most of (the golfers) are nervous when they walk through the tunnel,” Fox said. “Some of the younger guys get very nervous.”

Feb 12, 2022; Scottsdale Arizona, USA; Fans react to a birdie putt on the 16th hole during Round 3 at the WM Phoenix Open. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Breen-The Republic
Feb 12, 2022; Scottsdale Arizona, USA; Fans react to a birdie putt on the 16th hole during Round 3 at the WM Phoenix Open. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Breen-The Republic

The Thunderbirds is an organization created in the early 20th century to work as a special events committee. Initial members developed a golf tournament at the Phoenix Country Club, which later became the Phoenix Open.

To join the Thunderbirds, you must be nominated by two active Thunderbirds. When a Thunderbird turns 45 years old, their status changes from “active” to “life.”

Fox is a “life” Thunderbird. Hecklers like Leonard are routine for him.

But not for every golfer.

“It’s that one off-person that yells right when they get ready to swing that takes that level of noise (from quiet) to a spike that really throws them off,” Fox said.

Preston Summerhays, an 18-year-old amateur from Arizona State, received a sponsorship exemption into the Phoenix Open. He lives five minutes from the course and has regularly attended as a fan, Fox said.

“He’s the second-last player to hit, and there were just a few people left in the stands,” Fox said. “It’s dark, and Preston just got ready to make contact. As soon as he did that to take (his club) back, somebody really screamed … and it literally just threw him off, and he’s a kid.”

Despite the initial jump, Summerhays parred at the 3-par 16th.

Leonard passes his list like a pamphlet as more fans load into the section, which stands 150 feet from the tee. His row continues to drink, and while some stumble, they prepare for the next golfer.

In its 20th year, Leonard doesn’t look at his list much. He knows who’s coming up, and he knows what to say. His preparation requires him to not yell as much as he used to, he said, because he knows it will only take an hour for him to lose his voice.

But there’s nothing keeping Leonard from heckling.

“That list is going to be here next year, too,” Leonard said. “It’ll be updated and it’ll be ready.”

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: ‘Leonard’s List’: The nature of heckling at Phoenix Open’s 16th hole