Fans’ Boorish Behavior Doesn’t Belong
Everyone who follows professional golf knows “Mashed Potatoes” guy. He’s the noisy, obnoxious cousin of the equally annoying “Baba Booey” guy, a distant descendant of the “You da man” guy who came into being back in the ’80s, giving tournament golf an unnecessary soundtrack of bellowing, belligerent boys who insist on making themselves a part of the show. These people think they’re amusing because they’re not self aware enough to understand they’re jackwagons. The good news is they are a very small portion of the golf tournament-attending public though they reinforce the old adage that there’s one in every crowd. Sometimes more, unfortunately. This, of course, doesn’t happen at the Masters, which is another reason why the Masters is the Masters. And if it does happen, it doesn’t happen again. Ever. At least not for that former badge holder. The thing is this wouldn’t be an issue if it was just the occasional loudmouth who showed up at tournaments. Recently, however, it’s been bigger than one or two people who think they’re being funny. Gallery behavior has, at times, begun to encroach on the tournament itself. If it hasn’t directly aected play, the noisy and increasingly aggressive approach some fans have taken has gone from a nuisance to a genuine annoyance. “It’s those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times or just saying stu that’s completely inappropriate,” Justin Thomas said. “It’s one thing if it’s just you and I talking but when you’re around kids, when you’re around women, when you’re around families or just around people in general, some of the stu they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, but especially on a golf course, which is I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport. And not that other sports aren’t, but it has that persona. It has that reputation.” That leads to the obvious follow-up question: Why do they do it? “I guess they just think it’s funny," Thomas said. "It might be funny to them, and obviously people think of it dierently 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. 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.” Thomas, who on his way to victory Sunday at the Honda Classic was heard on TV calling out a fan who apparently cheered for his tee shot on the 16th hole to find a bunker, is right. He essentially was echoing what Rory McIlroy said about the crowds that followed Tiger Woods at Riviera Country Club during the recent Genesis Open. No stranger to large galleries, McIlroy shook his head at what Woods deals with every time he plays, suggesting Tiger spots the field two shots each tournament because of the gallery bustle and noise Big galleries are one thing. Increasingly poor behavior is something else. While common sense suggests that it’s possible to have both – thousands of golf fans watching their favorite players without acting like they’re at a frat party – the reality is things are going to get sloppy sometimes. Let’s not even start with the cellphone thing. That’s another rabbit hole entirely. Why are fans insistent on snapping cellphone photos instead of watching the golf? Just watch the next time television cameras get a tight shot of a player near the gallery. Many of the fans are watching the player through their cellphone camera. It makes no sense. Golf tournaments thrive on spectators and it makes a dierence both on site and as seen through a flat screen when the galleries are large and enthusiastic. There’s a value and a thrill to being there in person. A part of the game’s legend cherishes the roars at Augusta and the Ryder Cup. It’s the closest golf comes to feeling like a football game between old rivals. Like anything else, it’s when people push the limits or broad jump beyond the bounds of acceptable behavior that it becomes a problem. There’s no question that golf needs to loosen up. It takes itself far too seriously. Cargo shorts are ugly but do they need to be banned at clubs? Is playing music in your cart during a round really a bad thing? Traditionalists need to take a breath. However ... Fans should be there to watch the golf, not trying to be a part of it. It would be easy to blame it on the wide-open throttle at the Waste Management Phoenix Open every year but that’s not entirely accurate. Phoenix prides itself on its attendance and audience participation and players go there understanding the atmosphere. If they don’t like it, they shouldn’t play there. Phoenix works as a one-o, though it seems to have swung too far toward the good times. The same might be said of the 17th hole at the Honda Classic, which has its own Margaritaville reputation now. Golf tournaments can’t be just about the golf any more. They’ve become experiences. Even Augusta National has ultra-cool hospitality venues for select patrons. The professional game has become more willing to embrace change and add value to the spectator experience. It has become a necessity. It also comes with a cost, especially when beer and vodka are involved. “I’m not denying that people have had things said to them and that but it's not a question of stopping or shutting it all down” Pádraig Harrington said. "It’s a question of managing it and keeping it in the right environment and creating a festival. Every golf tournament, bar the majors, has to be, nearly every golf tournament, has to be a festival.
Theres got to be more to it than just 72 holes of golf. There is more to it. … Any golf event would be terrible if they went out there and closed the gates and had no spectators. There’s a happy line between the two and it does need to be managed. In the end of the day, if somebody said something that’s inappropriate or like that, well, that needs to be controlled. There’s no doubt about it.” To that, I say, he’s the man.