With all the sporting events going on near my hometown on Long Island last month, there was a day when I spent the morning watching golf at the U.S. Open and then caught an afternoon game at Yankee Stadium. While I spent the entire day watching sports, the afternoon outing was hardly an extension of the morning.
The baseball game was routine for me, but as I sat at Bethpage Black in the morning, the differences between the two sports made me question just what kind of sporting event golf was.
The first thing I noticed on the golf course was the pesky guys with the “Quiet Please” signs that give you a snooty look if you sneeze the wrong way when someone lines up for a putt. Now I understand this is all part of the time-honored etiquette of golf, but as I later sat at the baseball game I wondered, how less exciting other sports would be if similar rules applied? Can you imagine the reaction if an umpire in Yankee Stadium yelled out, “Everyone have some courtesy and be quiet please, Mr. Garciaparra is trying to get a hit here.”
The reason an umpire would never say that, aside from his desire to make it out of the Bronx safely, is professional athletes are expected to be able to block out distractions from the crowd. That’s a challenge all pro athletes face, except, of course, golfers.
While most athletes understand they are there to play in front of the fans, it seems like golfers think fans get in the way. When Tiger Woods was setting up for a shot on one hole, a single snap of someone’s camera provoked him to step back and glare at the nearby crowd as if someone had just thrown their beer at him. I felt less tension in a group when my calculus final was being handed out in December.
In other sports, fans are allowed and encouraged to root as passionately, loudly and sometimes obnoxiously as they please. Fans enjoy this and greater fan support makes for a more profitable sport, so why is golf different?
Maybe because in golf there is no one to root for. In an individual sport, there are no good guys and no bad guys. Some are more talented than others, some are more likable than others, and many die hard golf fans (believe it or not there are many) have their favorites, but it is unusually difficult to cheer for or against anyone in particular.
Other individual sports such as auto racing, tennis and boxing allow rowdier fans and feature more head-to-head competition, leaving golf as the only major professional sport in America in which the overwhelming sentiment of the fans is, “Everyone do your best!”
Imagine my confusion in spending half the day at a place where 50,000 people yell in unison, “Let’s go Yankees!,” and the earlier half of the day thinking to myself, “Let’s go, um, everybody?”
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but wouldn’t it be just a bit more fun if there were a couple hundred people dressed like Tiger Woods on one side of the fairway and a long enough line of people on the other side to paint “Phil Mickelson” across their chests?
There are signs of hope in golf, however, as the dominance of Tiger Woods has given him a fan following seen only before in “Happy Gilmore,” while others have come to root more intensely for anyone who has a shot at beating him on a given day.
Of course golf tournament crowds like the one I was a part of for a week will never be considered raucous, and golfers themselves will never be seen as great showmen or entertainers. Chances are you won’t see David Duval following in the footsteps of NBA stars and coming out with his own rap album, and let me stress that is a very, very good thing. But if both golfers and their fans could just lighten up a little, I think everyone would have a lot more fun.