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Original Issue

Miss Manners Would Be Teed Off

Distracting somebody on the course is an unheard-of (well, almost) breach of golf etiquette

Did you see where two PGA tour stars got their spikes a little bent out of shape a couple of weeks back at the Los Angeles Open? Fred Couples and Davis Love III were in a sudden-death playoff at the pricey Riviera Country Club when things got terribly ugly.

"Somebody made a comment," Couples said. "I didn't really appreciate it. He said, 'Have a good day and don't choke.' " And Love said that just before he set up to putt during the playoff, he swears he heard somebody in the gallery whisper, "Miss it." Love added, "There were at least five or six times when I heard people pulling against me."

Couples won the tournament, but both players said they were disturbed by the fans' rudeness. "It just got a little out of control," Love said. "It's not the way it should be. Freddie and I had a good friendly match, but the fans got carried away."

Golf fans pulling against someone? People who love the game acting untoward? This was such a shock to me that I brought it up during my usual Saturday morning game with "Two Down" O'Connor, the World's Most Avid Golf Bettor, and asked him what he thought.

Two Down was in the middle of his backswing on the 18th tee, $50 up on me, all bets doubled, when I mentioned it. "Can you believe how rudely the fans treated those two golfers last week?" I said. For some reason, he smother-hooked his drive over a fence and into the parking lot of a nearby dry-cleaning establishment.

Two Down gave me a rather churlish look as I stepped up to hit my drive. "Atrocious manners," he said. "Golf is the one place where decorum is an absolute must. Golf is not like other sports." Just then, Two Down loosed a Mayo Clinic cough, causing me to top my drive into the drainpipe near the ladies' tee. "Gamesmanship from fans or opponents has no place in golf," he said.

We discussed the issue further as he lined up his seven-iron to the green. "Oh, I heartily agree," I said. "Golf is different. In baseball, it's tradition for fans to razz opposing players. Can you imagine Fred Couples playing rightfield at Yankee Stadium? People pouring beer on him and such? In hockey, 'Have a good day and don't choke' is the equivalent of a Hallmark card." I absentmindedly ripped the Velcro on my golf glove just as Two Down was approaching impact. He gouged out a chunk of sod that would have carpeted a small den, causing his ball to drink thirstily from the greenside pond.

"It's true," Two Down said as I lined up my punch nine-iron. "Some people might consider golfers the most coddled of professional athletes: courtesy cars, orchids on their breakfast plates, people applauding politely all the time. Not at all like the NBA. Can you imagine Larry Bird complaining about fans screaming as he tries a game-winning free throw? But golf is different. We won't put up with boorish behavior."

Just then, he put the golf cart into reverse, and it made that annoying buzzing sound. I skulled the ball over the green, down the hill and into the grease fryer in the snack shack.

"You're 100 percent right," I said as he set up over his chip from the cart barn. "Some of the players at the L.A. Open were critical of the fans for clicking cameras while they were swinging. Do you have any idea how many people click their cameras every time Michael Jordan gets ready to shoot? Of course, he's used to it. Golf is much different." Unfortunately, at the exact moment Two Down was bringing his hips through, I accidentally hit DIAL TONE on my portable phone. He struck a sad little shot that exhausted itself after a few feet.

"Indeed," he said as I lined up my 11th stroke, an easy greenside bunker shot. "Now I hear players are getting angry at fans who try to be the first to yell, 'You the man!' at the moment of impact. It would be a laughable complaint in almost any other sport, but golf is different. A little mental thing like that can drive you crazy. Drat!"

"What?" I said.

"Oh, I was scolding myself for forgetting to take a lesson on those buried-lie bunker shots. Real killers."

Reminding myself that I had never had a lesson on buried-lie bunker shots, I lost all confidence. I finally extricated myself on the fourth try.

"Golf is a game of honor," I continued as Two Down lined up a simple two-footer for a 14 to close me out. "In baseball, it's perfectly natural for a catcher to whisper nasty things to the hitter. Things like, 'Boy, he's throwing crazy wild. The test results come back Tuesday.' But golf is different. For instance, now would not be the proper time to mention to you what I heard on the radio this morning."

"What?" Two Down asked, looking up.

"Well, it's just that they were having one of those radio contests, where the deejay calls people's homes. And they called your house."


"A man answered."

An ashen look came over Two Down's face, as though he had swallowed a pint of Sherwin-Williams. I believe it's the only time I ever saw a man shank a putt.

Now I had a simple three-inch tap-in to win. I drew my putter back, but before I could complete my stroke I noticed Two Down had the front wheels of our cart on the edge of my bag and was about to proceed forward in good haste. I graciously conceded the hole.

"Thank god golf is a gentlemen's sport," he said.