In the hierarchy of professional athletes, golfers are a petulant and spoiled lot.
It is undisputed that all professional athletes dwell in some pampered fantasy land separate from the masses, but none appear more coddled by the game they play than golfers.
I recently had the privilege of taking in the Friday round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at the glorious Olympic Club in San Francisco, and the experience, while personally entertaining, only reaffirmed that golfers compete in a cocoon.
You can call it a gentleman’s game or a battle of wits, but at the PGA level, golf is a massage at the day spa. For starters, the courses that PGA players compete on are generally cathedrals in top playing condition. Granted, the tournament organizers may see to it that the course conditions are extra challenging, as was the case at the Olympic Club, but the actual playing surfaces are superb.
How do pro golfers typically respond when course conditions challenge them? They whine like spoiled children. Take Bubba Watson, the Master’s tournament champion this year, at the U.S. Open as an example. The Olympic track and conditions didn’t suite his grip-it-and-rip-it game. He whined about the course, mentally packed it in and didn’t make the cut. Not exactly the kind of showing you’d expect from a professional.
I only get to play golf occasionally, and it’s not a cliché when I admit I’m a hack. I always laugh when I think about a pro taking a spin on some of the public courses the average golfer plays. You can hear the complaints now about the untamed rough and the bumpy greens.
Of course, the Olympic Club, while set up to be devastatingly challenging, was in pristine condition for the tournament. I have had the opportunity to play two rounds at Olympic in the past, and the course is undoubtedly a beast. But as a spectator, you expect more mental fortitude from million-dollar athletes than just checking out because the course is tough and doesn’t suit your game. Hey Bubba, how about some cheese with your whine?
Golf is also one of the only spectator sports (along with tennis) where cash-paying spectators yield some of their civil liberties when they venture out to watch the pros. I understand why Open organizers confiscated spectator cell phones before entering the Olympic Club because there is always that person who would forget to turn their phone off during a crucial putt or drive. But let’s face it, why do golfers need complete silence anyway to play their game?
Most sports require intense concentration, and spectators aren’t asked to “be quiet.” Hitting a 90 mile-per-hour baseball is as challenging a task as there is in sports, but baseball fans aren’t asked to be silent. Shooting free throws at crunch time in a basketball game is difficult and unnerving. Fans aren’t asked to keep it down; instead, they are screaming at the top of their lungs and waving foam fingers behind the basket. Talk about distracting. But pro baseball and basketball players get by; they learn to tune the crowd out.
Why can’t golfers cope with a little spectator noise? After all, their ball isn’t even moving! If I had a dollar for every time I heard a caddie or official at the Open say “quiet please” during our day, I would have been able to buy another round of beers for my friends.
If golf really wants to capture the hearts and minds of its spectators, let us make a little noise on the course. Humble weekend golfers can manage to concentrate enough to play solid rounds with someone talking on the tee box or on the green. Cell phones go off. Weekend golfers’ games don’t fall apart (well, not due to noise anyway).
Golf should calm down and allow spectators to make some noise, wave a few foam fingers and mix it up with some clean and clever verbal jabs at the players. C’mon, this is America, the land of sports fever and the passionate fan. Lighten up and let us loose, PGA. Otherwise, your game is really just a stuffy, country club affair largely detached from the common sports fan like me.
Dan Francisco is an El Dorado Hills-based public relations consultant to the high-tech industry.