Cacklers of the Coliseum: a Look at WM Phoenix Open Super Fans

Tom MackinJanuary 4, 2024
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At the PGA’s loudest and rowdiest hole, a devoted group of Minnesotans elevates heckling to an art form.

By Tom Mackin | Photography by Alyssa Buruato

“COACH’S DAUGHTER! COACH’S DAUGHTER!! COACH’S DAUGHTER!!!”

Greyson Sigg could not ignore that chant walking off the 16th tee last year during the third round of the WM Phoenix Open. It came from the stands to his left, voiced by a dedicated crew of Minnesotans whose coordinated cheers have elevated the hole’s buzzy soundtrack for more than two decades. 

They knew Sigg had, in fact, married the daughter of his coach on the University of Georgia’s golf team, and the reference earned them a knowing smile from the golfer.

Led by brothers Mike and Dave Leonard, the collection of vocal Minnesotans has been a fixture on 16 since 2002, gently needling players and caddies with personal details unearthed during weeks of pre-tournament research. Their carefully choreographed chants, cheers and heckles often pierce the cacophony on 16 – a short-par-3 hole completely encircled by 17,000 fans who unleash their very vocal opinions about the quality of tee shots and putts during the tournament. They don’t call it The Coliseum for nothing.

WMPO super fan Dave Leonard (No. 1 jersey) and friends mid-chant.
WMPO super fan Dave Leonard (No. 1 jersey) and friends mid-chant.

The tradition traces its origins to 1997. Then-seventh-grader Mike Leonard was at home in the Minneapolis suburb of Burnsville watching on TV when Tiger Woods made his famous ace on the 16th hole that year. Leonard saw the exuberant and untamed crowd reaction to the shot, with cups of beer flying through the air and onto the tee box. It was a wild display, especially in the genteel world of professional golf. “I thought, ‘What in the world is going on out there?’” Mike remembers. 

Two years later, Mike’s older brother Dave, then a freshman at ASU, first visited the Phoenix Open in person. He convinced Mike to fly in the following year, staking out a spot in the rowdy 16th general admission grandstands and joining the well-lubricated crowd in haranguing and heckling players for poor shots – and sometimes for good, but not good enough, shots. 

And they kept coming back. Year after year. With more and more Vikings-jersey-clad Minnesotans in tow.

“We had some friends join us in the early years, and then more caught on to how much fun it was, so they joined in,” Mike says. “Some people have come with us for one year and never went back. Others have made it a tradition. I don’t necessarily try to sell it to friends, like, hey, we organize the chants, yada, yada. I say it’s a perfect time to get out of Minnesota, usually not too expensive, and whether you like golf or not, you have a great time. I mean, you could not watch one golf shot and still have a great time.”

Early on, the Leonard brothers and their Minnesotan cohorts recognized the value of originality and wit when formulating their material. While they weren’t the first to break out pre-authored chants – ASU students did that for alumni like Phil Mickelson years before – the brothers took it a step beyond. 

“I was sitting at my brother’s house [in the Valley] and remembered that [PGA golfer] J.J. Henry went to TCU, so that became a Horned Frogs chant,” Mike says. “Then it clicked. Focus on first-timers, the no-names, guys from smaller schools.” 

That revelation led to “Leonard’s List,” with info on every player and many caddies in the field.

“We dove [deep] into player backgrounds,” Mike says. “I remember a player named Matt Every, who got in some trouble for possessing marijuana in 2010, so his next time at the TPC we chanted something about ‘Puff the Magic Dragon.’ He definitely laughed at that one as he was walking to the green.”

“GENTLEMAN, SCHOLAR, ATHLETE!!!” 

The Leonards say their intention has never been to rattle or embarrass the golfers – but simply to connect with them. “[The chants have] never been anything super negative,” Mike says. “Just stuff where a player might hear it and be like, ‘What the hell? Why are they chanting that?’ We want the players to laugh about it.”

Case in point: PGA golfer Brandt Snedeker, who went to Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville, Tennessee. The private school’s motto is Gentlemen, Scholar, Athlete. “We have chanted that to him many times over the years, but the very first time when he played here [in 2007], he fist-pumped and chanted it with us. I know he appreciated that,” Mike says.

The Leonards and their acolytes – who now typically number between three and four dozen on a given year – do not restrict their serenades to golfers. “We added [caddies] a few years ago,” Mike says. “Players can ignore us, but if we know a caddie’s name, and nobody else really does, then they can’t ignore us. 95 percent of caddies will turn around to us. Players, not so much.”

Sibling super fans Mike (No. 81 jersey) and Dave Leonard
Sibling super fans Mike (No. 81 jersey) and Dave Leonard

If attention is the currency ultimately sought by fan groups at PGA events, then the Leonards are the Medicis of that set. They’ve been the subject of profiles on PGATour.com and ESPN’s E:60, and Mike got a dose of his own medicine in 2009 when he was invited to participate in the Open’s “Shot at Glory” tee-shot contest, held at 16 on the Wednesday of tournament week. He thinned his tee shot to about 30 feet from the hole, and his brother and some buddies serenaded him with chants of “Golden Gusties” – the nickname for his own alma mater, Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota.  

Dave says the group’s veteran status on the hole may have also engendered some special treatment over the years. “One year, security may have let people [wearing] say, a Vikings jersey, go in and out of the stands to use the bathroom and then come back in without standing in line.”

But perhaps the greatest testament to the Minnesota gang’s stature comes from Jon Rahm, the ASU graduate and defending 2023 Masters champion, who noted their absence during the COVID year of 2021, when attendance was scaled back dramatically at the TPC. “But I must say, the crowd we miss [is] the people from Minnesota,” Rahm told reporters at a press conference during the 2021 Phoenix Open. “They’re always dressed in Viking gear, and they do their research on players because they have chants about me, my caddie, friends, things we’ve done in the past, college teammates. Just fun things from your life that they know. They start chanting things about my hometown, soccer team in the past. That group of individuals, whoever they are, they’ll be missed.”

“HOME-SCHOOLED KID! HOME-SCHOOLED KID!! HOME-SCHOOLED KID!!!”

In addition to Rahm, big names like Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson and John Daly have embraced the crazed atmosphere at 16 over the years, making them easy marks for the Minnesota crew. But it’s the lesser names who have inspired the most creative chants. Like Bud Cauley.

Before the then-22-year-old’s first appearance in 2012, the Leonards discovered that Cauley was home-schooled as a child. Naturally, that became the chant when he walked through the tunnel onto the tee. “He reacted with a great smile and nod,” recalls Mike, now a middle school teacher in Chaska, Minnesota. “His dad actually ran into us at the Birds Nest later that night and said Bud loved that and it helped calm his nerves on [the] 16 tee.”

Not all the Minnesotans’ shots hit their targets so squarely. In 2010, the Leonards devised a Jenna Jameson-themed chant for golfer Scott Piercy that may have suggested a romantic entanglement with the legendary porn actress. Later, the golfer set them – and the world – straight. 

Mike with his “Leonard’s List” that contains detailed bio info on players and caddies for chants
Mike with his “Leonard’s List” that contains detailed bio info on players and caddies for chants

“He confirmed in a press conference that he and Jameson both went to Bonanza High School in Las Vegas,” Mike says. “[But] I remember reading that he clarified, ‘She’s not an old girlfriend.’” 

More than two decades into their Phoenix Open tradition, the Leonards are still going strong. Crashing with his brother or staying with a friend who lives near the TPC Scottsdale, Mike works the $300-$400 Minneapolis to Phoenix plane ticket into his yearly budget and runs each WMPO campaign as a tight, well-tuned machine. But he concedes a certain toll it takes on him.

Until five years ago, Mike would spend most of the day standing in the front row, shouting out instructions to his crew and the nearby crowd. “My voice would be shot,” he says. “I use a Whiteboard now to orchestrate chants, which is way better on my voice.”

Even if they do one day step aside, Dave says, a new generation of Vikings-apparel-clad choristers will likely take their place. 

“I don’t know how much longer we can do this,” says Dave, who stayed in the Valley following his graduation from ASU, working as a high school math teacher. “[Mike is] 40 and I’m 43. It’s not easy to do this year after year. I’d feel like I would miss it, but I also would feel that we did our job.”

the Minnesotans at the 2023 Open
the Minnesotans at the 2023 Open