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For better or worse, golf attracting the mainstream crowd

By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 4:26 pm

A split second after Bubba Watson launched his tee shot at the par-4 10th hole on Sunday at Riviera Country Club the relative calm was shattered by one overly enthusiastic, and probably over-served, fan.

“Boom goes the dynamite!” the fan yelled.

Watson ignored the attention seeker, adhering to the notion it’s best not to make eye contact. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult to turn a deaf ear.

The last few weeks on the PGA Tour have been particularly raucous, first with the circuit’s annual stop at the “world’s largest outdoor cocktail party,” which is also known as the Waste Management Phoenix Open, and then last week in Los Angeles, where Tiger Woods was making his first start since 2006 and just his second of this season.

Fans crowded in five and six people deep along fairways and around greens to get a glimpse at the 14-time major champion, to cheer and, with increasing regularity, to push the boundaries of acceptable behavior at a golf tournament.

“I guess it's a part of it now, unfortunately. I wish it wasn't, I wish people didn't think it was so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we're trying to hit shots and play,” said Justin Thomas, who was grouped with Woods for the first two rounds at Riviera.



Although overzealous fans are becoming the norm, there’s a particularly rowdy element that has been drawn to the course by Woods’ return from injury. Even last month at Torrey Pines, which isn’t known as one of the Tour’s more boisterous stops, galleries were heard with increasing regularity.

But then Tiger has been dealing with chaotic crowds since he began rewriting the record books in the late-1990s, and it’s easy to dismiss the chorus of distractions. But it turns out that is as inaccurate as it is inconsiderate.

“It might have been like this the whole Tiger-mania and these dudes, but I swear, playing in front of all that, [Woods] gives up half a shot a day on the field,” reasoned Rory McIlroy, who was also grouped with Tiger for Rounds 1 and 2 last week. “It's two shots a tournament he has to give to the field because of all that goes on around him. ...  I need a couple Advil, I've got a headache after all that.”

There’s always been a price to pay for all of the attention that’s followed Woods’ every step, but McIlroy’s take offered new context. How many more events could Tiger have won if he had played in front of galleries that didn’t feel the need to scream the first thing that crossed their mind?

“It's cost me a lot of shots over the years. It's cost me a few tournaments here and there,” allowed Woods after missing the cut at Riviera. “I've dealt with it for a very long time.”

For Woods, the ubiquitous, “Get in the hole,” shriek has simply been an occupational hazard, the burden that he endured. What’s changed in recent years is that behavior has expanded beyond Tiger’s gallery.

While officials two weeks ago at the Waste Management Phoenix Open happily announced attendance records – 719,179 made their way to TPC Scottsdale for the week – players quietly lamented the atmosphere, specifically around the 16th hole that has become particularly harsh in recent years.

“I was a little disappointed in some of the stuff that was said and I don't want much negativity – the normal boos for missing a green, that's fine, but leave the heckling to a minimum and make it fun, support the guys out playing,” Rickie Fowler said following his second round at TPC Scottsdale.

What used to be an entertaining one-off in Phoenix is becoming standard fare, with players bracing for a similar atmosphere this week at PGA National’s 17th hole, and that’s not sitting well with the rank and file.

“I guess they just think it's funny. It might be funny to them, and obviously people think of it differently and I could just be overreacting, but when people are now starting to time it wrong and get in people's swings is just completely unacceptable really,” Thomas said in Los Angeles. “We're out here playing for a lot of money, a lot of points, and a lot of things can happen, and you would just hate to see in the future something happen down the line because of something like that.”

This issue reared its rowdy head at the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah, and again two years ago at Hazeltine National. Combine thousands of patriotic fans with a cash bar and what you end up with is an atmosphere closer to Yankee Stadium in October than Augusta National in April.

It’s called mainstream sports, which golf has always aspired to until the raucous underbelly runs through the decorum stop signs that golf clings to.

This is not an endorsement or a justification for the “Mashed Potatoes” guy – Seriously, dude, what does that even mean? – and it seems just a matter of time before someone yells something at the wrong moment and costs a player a title.

But this is mainstream sports. It’s not pretty, it’s certainly not quiet and maybe it’s not for golf. But this is where the game now finds itself.

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Weather extends Barbasol to Monday finish

By Associated PressJuly 23, 2018, 12:25 am

NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. - A thunderstorm has suspended the fourth round of the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship until Monday morning.

Sunday's third stoppage of play at Champions Trace at Keene Trace Golf Club came with the four leaders - Hunter Mahan, Robert Streb, Tom Lovelady and Troy Merritt at 18 under par - and four other contenders waiting to begin the round.

The tournament will resume at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. Lightning caused one delay, and play was stopped earlier in the afternoon to clear water that accumulated on the course following a morning of steady and sometimes-heavy rain.

Inclement weather has plagued the tournament throughout the weekend. The second round was completed Saturday morning after being suspended by thunderstorms late Friday afternoon.

The resumption will mark the PGA Tour's second Monday finish this season. Jason Day won the Farmers Insurance Open in January after darkness delayed the sixth playoff hole, and he needed just 13 minutes to claim the victory.

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Watch: Spectator films as Woods' shot hits him

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 12:07 am

It was a collision watched by millions of fans on television, and one that came at a pivotal juncture as Tiger Woods sought to win The Open. It also gave Colin Hauck the story of a lifetime.

Hauck was among dozens of fans situated along the left side of the 11th hole during the final round at Carnoustie as the pairing of Woods and Francesco Molinari hit their approach shots. After 10 holes of nearly flawless golf, Woods missed the fairway off the tee and then pulled his iron well left of the target.

The ball made square contact with Hauck, who hours later tweeted a video showing the entire sequence - even as he continued to record after Woods' shot sent him tumbling to the ground:

The bounce initially appeared fortuitous for Woods, as his ball bounded away from thicker rough and back toward the green. But an ambitious flop shot came up short, and he eventually made a double bogey to go from leading by a shot to trailing by one. He ultimately shot an even-par 71, tying for sixth two shots behind Molinari.

For his efforts as a human shield, Hauck received a signed glove and a handshake from Woods - not to mention a firsthand video account that will be sure to spark plenty of conversations in the coming years.

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Molinari retirement plan: coffee, books and Twitter

By Will GrayJuly 22, 2018, 9:35 pm

After breaking through for his first career major, Francesco Molinari now has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a 10-year exemption in Europe and has solidified his standing as one of the best players in the world.

But not too long ago, the 35-year-old Italian was apparently thinking about life after golf.

Shortly after Molinari rolled in a final birdie putt to close out a two-shot victory at The Open, fellow Tour player Wesley Bryan tweeted a picture of a note that he wrote after the two played together during the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October. In it, Bryan shared Molinari's plans to retire as early as 2020 to hang out at cafes and "become a Twitter troll":

Molinari is active on the social media platform, with more than 5,600 tweets sent out to nearly 150,000 followers since joining in 2010. But after lifting the claret jug at Carnoustie, it appears one of the few downsides of Molinari's victory is that the golf world won't get to see the veteran turn into a caffeinated, well-read troll anytime soon.

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Molinari had previously avoided Carnoustie on purpose

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 9:17 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Sometimes a course just fits a player’s eye. They can’t really describe why, but more often than not it leads to solid finishes.

Francesco Molinari’s relationship with Carnoustie isn’t like that.

The Italian played his first major at Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest of all The Open venues, in 2007, and his first impression hasn’t really changed.

“There was nothing comforting about it,” he said on Sunday following a final-round 69 that lifted him to a two-stroke victory.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


In fact, following that first exposure to the Angus coast brute, Molinari has tried to avoid Carnoustie, largely skipping the Dunhill Links Championship, one of the European Tour’s marquee events, throughout his career.

“To be completely honest, it's one of the reasons why I didn't play the Dunhill Links in the last few years, because I got beaten up around here a few times in the past,” he said. “I didn't particularly enjoy that feeling. It's a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There's no way around it. You can't really hide.”

Molinari’s relative dislike for the layout makes his performance this week even more impressive considering he played his last 37 holes bogey-free.

“To play the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today,” he said.