Tough Crowd

By Randall MellJune 15, 2009, 4:00 pm
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2009 U.S. OpenChuck Workman wouldnt call it heckling, but he barked at his TV set watching the U.S. Open the first time it was played at Bethpage Black seven years ago.
 
The former head professional at Bethpage State Park Golf Course knew how all those New Yorkers in the gallery felt following the worlds best players around their course.
 
All the loving devotion he showed the first municipal course to host a U.S. Open made it feel like his course, too.
 
Bethpage crowd
Fans numbered in the tens of thousands at Bethpage in 2002. (Getty Images)
Ive probably played it a thousand times, Workman said.
 
So when he saw players reach the 517-yard fourth hole, a par 5 that plays uphill, Workman spat out instructions from his home in Lake Worth, Fla., advice he knew the New Yorkers at Bethpage were barking out, too.
 
You got to be right in that fairway, Workman shouted. The farther right you hit your second shot, the easier it is to flip a wedge up on that postage stamp green.
 
Workman found himself doing that every hole.
 
Workman, 74 now, was the head professional at Bethpage for 17 years through the 80s and 90s, but like so many New Yorkers his love affair with Bethpage Black was kindled in his youth.
 
At 14, he started summer mornings in Queens, slinging his golf bag full of Bobby Jones irons and persimmon woods over his shoulder and hiking down to catch the Long Island train.
 
It was a big tour bag, too, Workman said. Every kid had to have a tour bag.
 
He took the 45-minute ride to Farmingdale, and from there he walked more than a mile to Bethpage.
 
I wasnt the only kid doing that back then, Workman said.
 
It cost $2 to play the course in 1950 and walkups had little problem getting to play.
 
Later, when Workman was the head pro, before an automated reservation system was installed, play was based on the first-come first-served principle.
 
Children of privilege got no advantage there, neither did adults. Famed architect A.W. Tillinghast is credited with building an uncommon test for the common man. Doctors played with plumbers, accountants with cops, lawyers with truck drivers.
 
We had a plumber with a 2-handicap, said Workman, who still teaches golf in South Florida. There were a lot of really good players there.
 
Workman dislikes how the automated reservation system has altered the democratic nature of the course, how some tee times are scalped for as much as $850, but he still calls this U.S. Open the true Peoples Open because of the melting pot nature of games there. It costs $60 for New York state residents to play, $120 for non-residents. Tee times can be booked by telephone seven days in advance for residents, with the phone lines opening at 7 p.m. In a three-minute blitz, a full days tee times are booked. Out-of-state residents cant call until two days before. Still, the first six tee times every day remain open for walkups, folks who typically arrive a day early and sleep over in the walk-up car line.
 
The New Yorkers who play Bethpage Black remain extremely possessive of their golf treasure. That, coupled with the raucous nature of New York Citys sports fans in general, promises to make this another feisty championship.
 
New Yorkers who love Bethpage will remind Tour pros that theyre just guests this week, and they better live up to the privilege theyre getting as guests.
 
Rocco Mediate, who lost that dramatic Monday playoff in the U.S. Open to Tiger Woods at Torrey Pines last year, is bracing for a boisterous week.
 
The crowd is going to be completely nuts, Mediate said. They were nuts (in 02). Its going to be great.
 
Mediate remembers Sergio Garcia in the moment at Bethpage Black that encapsulates the worst fear of pros headed there.
 
Back then, Garcia was struggling with excessive waggles. At the 16th hole in the second round, spectators began counting Garcias waggles out loud. An irritated Garcia backed off and started to make an offensive gesture that involved extending a finger, though he stopped himself in the middle of the act.
 
Afterward, Garcia told media that fans were making stupid comments.
 
Mediate told Garcia he might live to regret that.
 
What do you mean? Garcia asked him.
 
Youll find out, probably for the rest of your career coming to New York, Mediate said.
 
Playing in a heavy rain in that second round in 02, Garcia compounded his mistakes by suggesting the U.S. Golf Association favors Tiger Woods and would have suspended the session if Woods had been caught in that same rain. He also ranted that Bethpage Black appeared to be perfectly set up for Woods. New Yorkers heard whining.
 
With Garcia waggling over a shot in the first fairway the next day, a spectator shouted: While were young, Sergio.
 
As Garcia passed in the second fairway, another spectator barked: Give me the finger, Sergio.
 
Later, somebody made sounds like a baby crying, shouting ``waaaa, waaaaa as Garcia passed.
 
Phil Mickelson was subject to boisterous behavior, too, but of a completely different nature.
 
Playing the final round on his 32nd birthday, Mickelson listened to New Yorkers sing him Happy Birthday.
 
They love Mickelson in New York, and with his wife, Amy, fighting breast cancer, the week is shaping up as a big New York hug for Mickelson.
 
You have two ways you can go there, 2003 U.S. Open champ Jim Furyk said. You can enjoy it, take it like a football-game type of crowd, or you can let it bother you.
 
You have to have fun with it. If you can turn it around like a Scott Verplank can, have fun with the fans and get them charged up, theyll end up enjoying it and cheering for you.
 
The Chuck Workmans of the world will enjoy seeing who fits in at their beloved playground.
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage -2009 U.S. Open
  • First- and Second-Round Tee Times
  • Sectional Qualifying results
  • Bethpage Black Ballpark
  • Getty Images

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