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Archive for Thursday, August 15, 2002

Golfers not thrilled with vocal fans

August 15, 2002

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— Here's one of golf's nightmares.

Davis Love III steps over a putt on the 18th green Sunday at the PGA Championship with a chance to win, and six shirtless, big-bellied Vikings fans with horned Norsemen helmets and painted faces stand in the front row of the bleachers. After hoisting their beer cups skyward, they belch in unison.

And the crowd roars its approval.

The new breed of boisterous golf fans aren't that mainstream yet, but we're getting closer, and that worries a growing number of PGA Tour pros playing at Hazeltine National Golf Club this week.

The last time a major championship was played in the United States, a frat party broke out. Actually, the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black outside New York City was probably a keg short of full-fledged college fun. Still, who will forget Sergio Garcia start to flip the bird at hecklers, then catch himself before giving them the full effect of the gesture?

Charles Howell III, who wears those J. Lindeberg designed golf pants with stripes down the side, was mercilessly badgered there.

"Hey, ice cream man, can we get a couple cones over here?" was the refrain.

Funny stuff, unless you're over a shot trying to win the U.S. Open.

At the Western Open last month, a fan screamed "choker" after Love hooked his drive into the trees at the 71st hole and had to pitch out into the fairway, angering the normally mild-mannered Love.

At the Buick Open last week, a fan yelled a racial slur at Mexican Esteban Toledo at the 17th hole on Sunday, prompting Tiger Woods' caddie, Steve Williams, to go to the ropes and bark his disapproval.

"They were saying things that were just uncalled for at a golfing event," Woods said. "You don't say that to any player: myself, Esteban or any player."

If you don't follow golf, I know what you're thinking. This stuff doesn't compare to what NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball players hear. You're thinking golf pros are babies. They're spoiled, mostly rich country clubbers who don't have a clue what the real world is like. You're thinking maybe the sport needs a reality transfusion.

You're wrong. This sport should never change, not that way.

When golf events start resembling Jets-Giants football games, it will be another sign the apocalypse is upon us.

Golf is one of the last bastions of civility in sports. Players still call penalties on themselves. The game is different, old school in the best way. Its honorable traditions and strict adherence to etiquette are intrinsic to the game's beauty.

"People don't have respect for what other people are doing," Love said. "This is the way it is in the world today. It doesn't matter if it's golf or walking your dog down the street. People are just not respectful of other people."

Love says the heckling is getting worse every year on tour and that it has sunk to new low since loud-mouthed fans at Bethpage Black inspired fans at other events to follow their act.

"I don't like going to the ropes and yelling at people, but it seems like I do it every week now," he said.

Are golf fans out of control?

"If there were racial slurs made to Esteban and Tiger, yes," Curtis Strange said. "Fans have a right to be vocal and root hard. On the other hand, just because a guy paid 20 bucks or whatever, he doesn't have the right to be rude and impolite and make derogatory comments. "I think it is up to the PGA Tour to police that, and I don't think they've done a very good job of that."

Nobody's expecting Minnesota fans to be as rude this week as the crowd at Bethpage. Then again, a drunken contingent rooted for players to hit their shots in the water at the eighth hole the last time a major was played at Hazeltine, the 1991 U.S. Open.

"If you want to yell and scream, go to a football game where it doesn't affect the game," Love said. "It affects the game out here. It's not a fan participation sport. When a fan tells a player a putt breaks right, it's against the rules. It's not part of the game.

"They have to act like a golf fan, and a lot of people don't know what a golf fan is ... There is no reason the game should change."

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