No place for heckling in golf

By Randall MellMay 14, 2012, 7:18 pm

Kevin Na took the brunt of the abuse Sunday at The Players Championship, but the game got abused, too.

The heckling was over the top, with drunken fans bellowing for Na to “pull the trigger” and with others singing “Na Na Na Na, hey hey hey, goodbye” when he rinsed his tee shot at the 13th hole.

Heckling is almost a fan’s right in most sports, but it’s necessarily different in golf, and it must remain different despite the mainstream sentiment that golf would be immensely more popular if fans had a larger and rowdier say.

Booing and heckling are a more accepted part of the fan culture in football, baseball and basketball, but the jeering doesn’t typically affect a competition’s outcome. That’s where golf is different. Given the nature of the game, a heckling fan’s ability to dictate an outcome is drastically more substantial.


Video: Na talks about fan reaction


A well-placed heckle is like a gust of 40-mph wind in golf.

Covering Doral a number of years ago, I asked Paul Azinger on the driving range what he thought of a heckling incident Davis Love III faced playing Tiger Woods at the Accenture Match Play Championship. Azinger loves the atmosphere of Ryder Cups, but his answer was classic. He said a heckling fan in golf is the equivalent of a fan in football reaching out with his leg to trip a player running up the sideline toward the end zone.

“The golf swing takes about a second and a half to make, and in that second and a half about 30 things run through your mind,” Azinger said. “That's how fast your mind works. If during that second and a half something happens, as minuscule as a camera click, or a horn going off, or somebody coughing or saying something, it's going to throw off the process.”

I don’t know about you, but if I’m paying to see a tournament, I want to see the world’s best players dictating the outcome, not some idiot fan with a belly full of booze.

Yeah, golf’s endured this before, at Ryder Cups, at U.S. Opens with Colin Montgomerie being heckled as “Mrs. Doubtfire,” but every time sport's barbarians feel like they’re at the gate of golf, the game's devoted followers need to remind us why the gates should remain closed.

Really, if Tiger Woods gets to 17 major championship wins, do you want to see a well-timed heckle influence his shot at history? Woods can be affected. We saw it Thursday at The Players when he barked at a fan for taking a cell phone photo in his backswing. We heard Woods warn that such fan interference can affect outcomes.

There’s the larger issue of sportsmanship, too. It’s in sad decay in a society that’s becoming less civil.

“Manners are more important than laws,” British statesman Edmund Burke once wrote. “Upon them in a great measure the laws depend. The law touches us but here and there, and now and then. Manners are what vex and soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in ... They aid morals, they supply them, or they totally destroy them.”

Sportsmanship is civility’s first cousin.

Michael Josephson, founder of the Josephson Institute of Ethics, once told me sportsmanship creates the atmosphere in which two competitors can draw out the best in each other.

“The word competition comes from a Latin root, competere, which means to strive together,” Josephson said. “That's the old version, the historic Olympic version, where you literally respect and honor your opponent, because you’re both giving your best to truly test your athletic ability to see who is fastest or more skilled. There is a nobility about competition.'

Olympic competition was meant to move man toward excellence, toward elevating the best in his nature.

“A true sportsman wants to play against his best competition on his competition’s best day,” Josephson said. “You literally respect and honor your opponent. Today, more and more people are engaged in sport as entertainment and business, where there’s a profit mentality ... Even in amateur sports, it’s all about winning, not competing

“If we lose the true meaning of sport, we just have another form of business, where everything becomes a highly manipulated entertainment process, where the extreme example is pro wrestling.”

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Azinger: 'Can't see anybody beating Tiger' at his best

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:44 pm

There's a new world No. 1, and a fresh crop of young guns eager to make their mark on the PGA Tour in 2019. But according to Paul Azinger, the player with the highest ceiling is still the same as it was when he was walking inside the ropes.

Azinger was named Monday as lead golf analyst for NBC Sports, and on "Morning Drive" he was asked which player is the best when all are playing their best. The former PGA champion pondered new world No. 1 Brooks Koepka and former No. 1 Dustin Johnson, but he came back around to a familiar answer: Tiger Woods.

"I just can't see anybody beating Tiger when Tiger's at his best. I just can't see it," Azinger said. "He's not his best yet, but he's almost his best. And when Tiger's his best, there's more that comes with Tiger than just the score he shoots. That crowd comes with Tiger, and it's a whole 'nother dynamic when Tiger's at his best. And I'm just going to have to say that when Tiger's at his best, he's still the best."

Woods, 42, started this year ranked No. 656 in the world but had a resurgent season that included a pair of near-misses at The Open and PGA Championship and culminated with his win at the Tour Championship that ended a five-year victory drought. For Azinger, the question now becomes how he can follow up a breakthrough campaign as he looks to contend consistently against players from a younger generation.

"That's why we watch, to see if he can maintain that. To see what he's capable of," Azinger said. "Now longevity becomes the issue for Tiger Woods. In seven or eight years, he's going to be 50 years old. That goes fast. I'm telling you, that goes really fast."

When Woods returns to action, he'll do so with a focus on the upcoming Masters as he looks to capture the 15th major title that has eluded him for more than a decade. With bombers like Koepka and Johnson currently reigning on the PGA Tour, Azinger believes the key for Woods will be remaining accurate while relying on the world-class iron play that has been a strength throughout his career.

"I think he's going to have to recognize that he's not the beast out there when it comes to smacking that ball off the tee. But I'd like to see him try to hit a couple more fairways periodically. That'd be nice," he said. "If he can drive that ball in the fairway, with that putter, we've seen what his putter is capable of. The sky's the limit, boys."

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Spieth drops out of top 10 for first time since 2014

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:08 pm

As Brooks Koepka ascended to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking, a former No. 1 continued a notable decline.

Jordan Spieth didn't play last week's CJ Cup, where Koepka won by four shots. But Jason Day did, and his T-5 finish in South Korea moved him up two spots from No. 12 to No. 10 in the latest rankings. Spieth dropped from 10th to 11th, marking the first time that he has been outside the top 10 in the world rankings since November 2014.

Since that time, he has won 12 times around the world, including three majors, while spending 26 weeks as world No. 1. But he hasn't won a tournament since The Open last July, and this year he missed the Tour Championship for the first time in his career. Spieth is expected to make his season debut next week in Las Vegas at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.


Updated Official World Golf Ranking


Koepka and Day were the only movers among the top 10 on a week that saw many top players remain in place. Sergio Garcia's rain-delayed win at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters moved him up four spots to No. 27, while Gary Woodland went from 38th to 30th after finishing second behind Koepka on Jeju Island.

Koepka will tee off as world No. 1 for the first time this week at the WGC-HSBC Champions, where new No. 2 Dustin Johnson will look to regain the top spot. Justin Rose is now third in the world, with Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler and Day rounding out the top 10.

With his next competitive start unknown, Tiger Woods remained 13th in the world for the fifth straight week.

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Pavin's season nearly ends after slow-play penalty

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 1:50 pm

Corey Pavin's season on the PGA Tour Champions nearly came to an end because of a slow-play penalty.

Penalties for pace are often discussed or threatened, but rarely doled out on either the PGA Tour or the over-50 circuit. But that changed Sunday during the final round of the Dominion Energy Charity Classic, where Pavin was told by a rules official after completing his round that he would receive a 1-stroke penalty for slow play.

The penalty was on the surface rather harmless, turning an even-par 72 into a 1-over 73 and dropping Pavin into a tie for 15th. But this was the first event of a three-tournament postseason for PGA Tour Champions players, and only the top 54 in points advanced to this week's Invesco QQQ Championship.


Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic


Pavin, who has two top-10 finishes in 20 starts this season, barely held on at 53rd place after the penalty was enforced.

Slow-play discussions came up earlier this season surrounding Bernhard Langer at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, but Golf Channel analyst Lanny Wadkins expressed his surprise on the telecast that it was Pavin who got a shot added to his score.

"Of all the things to happen with all the times I have played - I can't even count the number of rounds - I never thought Corey Pavin was a slow player," Wadkins said. "All the guys we know are slow players have never been penalized out here. Where has this been for the last 15 years?"

The subject of the penalty also raised an eyebrow from Stephen Ames, who finished alongside Pavin in 15th place while Langer finished second behind Woody Austin:

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Azinger 'lobbied' to captain Ryder Cup team a second time

By Rex HoggardOctober 22, 2018, 1:47 pm

In 2008, Paul Azinger became the first U.S. Ryder Cup captain in nearly a decade to lead a team to victory, doing so at Valhalla with his innovative “pod” system and a player-driven approach to leadership.

In the wake of that victory there were many, including the vast majority of his players, who said Azinger deserved a second chance to captain, but at the time the 12-time PGA Tour winner appeared to be undecided and the PGA of America named Corey Pavin the 2010 captain.

On Monday, Azinger was named NBC Sports/Golf Channel’s lead analyst starting next year and among many revelations during an extended interview on “Morning Drive” he explained how much he wanted a second chance to captain.

“I wanted to do it again, I lobbied to do it again after we won in ’08, but I think I waited a little too long and they had already made a decision,” Azinger said. “The excuse I got was that there are more captains than there are Ryder Cups and I thought that was fair, but then they asked [Tom] Watson to do it again shortly afterward and I was like, ‘What, huh?’”

Watson was named captain of the 2014 U.S. team, which lost by five points and led to the creation of the Ryder Cup task force, which adopted many of Azinger’s ideas including his use of four-player pods.

It’s even more curious that Azinger was never given a second chance considering that Davis Love III was also named a captain twice, first in 2012 and again in ’16.

“I didn’t do it again, I didn’t carry the flag to Europe in 2010, which is fine, and now I’m never going to get to do it again,” he said.

As for who may be named the next U.S. captain after another loss to the Europeans last month in France Azinger could only speculate. “Looks like Wisconsin [site of the 2020 matches at Whistling Straits] and Steve Stricker are going to be a perfect match,” he said.