Skip to main content

Does Golf Make Too Much of Politeness

I suppose we shouldnt make much of the Davis Love run-in with the hyperventilating fan last week. Goodness knows the USA Today columnist pontificated enough about it in a column earlier in the week.
Davis Love the Nerd - mocking his name, Davis Love III - was his frequent moniker for Love as he railed about the incident in which Love had the Tiger Woods fan ejected on the afternoon of the championship match at the Accenture.
To begin with, the columnist wasnt there when the nastiness was going on. I wasnt either, by the way ' I had been at LaCosta earlier in the week but had left by the time the Love-Woods match was played Sunday. So we both are in the same boat, reacting solely to what was told us.
I will quote Love himself and PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem. Loves version pinpoints the heckling at the first hole of the afternoon, the 19th overall. First, only his caddie heard it. On the second hole, Love himself heard it. The fan kept saying No Love! repeatedly, and when Love had heard it enough, he stepped up to the ropes, identified the young man, and had him ejected.
Was Love right or wrong? There are a thousand different ways to argue this one. No, the young man apparently didnt curse. He didnt show visual signs of being inebriated. He was a rabid Tiger fan with TW on the cap he was wearing. He rooted loud and long when Woods did something positive ' a fact duly noted, and applauded, by Love. But then he took his zeal one step further and began verbally attacking Love.
I know, I know ' such an outburst at a Duke basketball game would be laughable. There ' in any basketball game, as a matter of fact ' the idea isnt just to root on your own team. The idea is to jeer an opposing player until he eventually breaks down, missing a free throw or somesuch, or actually acknowledging the heckling with some sort of a gesture.
Thats OK, believes the columnist, who obviously has been to a multitude of sports events. His informer didnt believe the heckling was too bad. Shoot, a little friendly jibing, nothing too extreme, just a fella who wanted his man to win and Love to lose. After all, we assume, the kid paid for his ticket.
OK ' the problem is this: how close is he allowed to come to the player at a Duke basketball game? And how close is he allowed to come at a golf tournament?
In our sport, said Finchem, we give the fan an unusual amount of access and proximity to the athlete ' something you dont see in any other sport.
But, we expect ' and really must demand ' that if youre going to have that access, you have to conduct yourself in a way that is not interfering with the flow of competition.
Fans, you see, come so close to players on the tee that they could spit on them. Many times, a player walks through the crowd going from the green to the next tee. A player must walk about 200 yards through the crowds at Doral to get from the practice range to the putting green. If a fan so desires, he could walk step-by-step with the player of his choice.
And if the PGA Tour so desired, it could move the ropes far back from the action ' as far back as one would be at a football game, for example. They could move the player from driving range to putting green in an enclosed vehicle. No one would be allowed to ask a player for his autograph at the 18th green. The over-exuberant fan would be shuttled far to the back, as well as the guy who just wants to get close to his hero.
Does it bother the player to hear a loud yelp when he is making his backswing? Some, it does. Tigers dad used to rattle change while Tiger was making his swing, just to make him mentally tough. Most professional golfers, though, didnt have that kind of training. Most kids practicing field goals or free throws dont, either.
So is yelling wrong on the golf course? It all depends, I guess, on youre interpretation of wrong. I definitely have a personal viewpoint ' of course its wrong! But I have that view of loudmouth hecklers at a football game, a basketball game or a hockey game. Those sports tolerate the garbage that spews from the ticket buyers, so it must be OK in those arenas.
Golf, though, hasnt tolerated it very well. The reason, says Finchem, is that it affords fans a very up-close-and-personal look at the athletes. To some of you, golf should grow up and come kicking into the 21st century, where a fan pays for his ticket and is afforded the right to mentally break down athletes.
In so doing, though, something is lost. A very human quality called respect goes out the window. And at the golf tournament, officials have shown time and again they are not going to put up with it. If they ever do, the heckling fan is going to be a long, long way from his athlete-victim.