Golf fans won’t rock you

By Mike Szwaja

It took all of two minutes, but it said so much about the fan-player relationship in professional golf.

At one point during last weekend’s Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills Country Club, Spain’s Sergio Garcia was faced with a tough downhill chip out of the deep rough behind a green. Garcia’s shot hit soft, but the ball still rolled past the hole, and it kept rolling, leaving him with a lengthy par putt.

As the shot rolled, several American fans screamed, “Go … go … go … go,” a cheer usually reserved for a shot that appears to need some extra distance. This was the Ryder Cup, though – the only time golf fans can act like real sports fans.

Garcia, being the arrogant little hothead that he is, turned and looked at the fans, put his arms out, shrugged his shoulders and gave the fans a look as if to say, “Come on, guys. That’s not right.”

Garcia is spoiled. All golfers are spoiled. Rarely do they have to face the malice and hatred of opposing fans.

On this campus, when the Marching Illini plays “The Hey Song,” our fans follow the “Hey!” with a vociferous “You suck!” How would that sound before a drive on 16, Sergio?

When a visiting left fielder races back to the wall at Wrigley to make a catch, he doesn’t make the out without an Old Style shower from the bleacher bums. How would that feel while searching for your ball in the gallery, Sergio?

When the Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions play each other, the Bears fans show up with stuffed lions hung in effigy, and the Lions fans do the same with stuffed bears. How would seeing a stuffed little Sergio hanging from a tree at the turn feel, Sergio?

When Jeff Gordon wins a race these days, the Dale Jr. fans make it a point to stay in their seats and boo him all the way around his victory lap. How would that sound while kissing a giant crystal punch bowl, Sergio?

I don’t mean to pick on Garcia. I’m not sure a majority of the golfers on the PGA Tour understand how well golf fans behave. In fact, they behave too well. I go to the Western Open every year – and every year I get frustrated.

Everyone sits there on their folding chairs and gives every player that comes through little golf claps. Just once, I want to say to Scott Hoch, “Hey Hoch, the last thing you wanted to do on this hole was miss left. Good luck hackin’ it out of that gorilla grass over there.”

At that point, I would probably be headed home early. And why? Why can golf fans not say such things? Most golf purists would probably say something like this: “Because golf requires extreme concentration, Mike.”

Yeah, well so does free throw shooting, but we let thousands of fans scream and wave balloons behind the backboard while guys shoot crucial free throws.

So does a two-minute drill, but NFL crowds get so loud that coaches make their teams practice with artificial crowd noise blaring from huge speakers.

Getting back to Garcia, as much as he annoys me, he’s great for golf. He’s a guy that’s easy to hate.

One of the problems with golf today is there are no natural enemies. Golf isn’t a team sport, so hometown fans aren’t applicable. Take a look at a popular individual sport, NASCAR, and it’s a bit different. If you live and die by Chevys, you’re a Dale Jr. fan.

Phil Mickelson just started playing Callaway clubs, but all the loyal Callaway users out there aren’t going to rain boos on Ernie Els, a Taylor Made user, every time he beats Mickelson. There’s no way. The golf culture doesn’t allow it.

As a whole, we love the enemy, though. Imagine “Star Wars” without Darth Vader, “Spiderman” without the Green Goblin, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” without the Nazis. They would still be cool visual movies with some real appeal, but something would be missing. Apply that same principle to golf now.

Tiger Woods boomed golf’s popularity with his stellar play, but imagine what heated rivalries could do for the game. Imagine a gallery of divided fans at every regular PGA Tour event, rather than just at the Ryder Cup.

I’m not asking the PGA to blast “We Will Rock You” from huge speakers along the fairway. But I do think golf would be a much more attractive spectator sport if the fans took sides and pitted their loyalties against one another.

Mike Szwaja is a senior in communications. He can be reached at [email protected]