Let me say right off that there is no excuse for the boorish
behavior directed at David Duval two weeks ago at the Phoenix
Open. There is a thin line between gallery enthusiasm--"a frat
party atmosphere," as CBS's Gary McCord described it--and a
drunken orgy. The crowd at Scottsdale, especially at the 16th
and 17th holes, stepped (or staggered) well over that line.
For some spectators heckling is a sport within a sport, an
attempt to become part of the action or perhaps bring an athlete
down to their level. In stadium sports such harassment is easy
to ignore. Often it is not even heard above the roar of the
crowd. At golf and tennis tournaments, where silence is the norm
during play, taunts are more intrusive.
But Duval was not entirely blameless for what happened at the
Phoenix Open. When he reacted to gibes at the TPC of Scottsdale,
he broke a cardinal rule. To wit: If you want to put an end to
such nonsense, ignore the source. Perhaps no golfer took more
abuse than Jack Nicklaus when, in the early '60s, he was in the
process of dislodging Arnold Palmer from his throne. Someone was
always yelling "go in the trap" when he drove and "miss it" when
he putted. Nicklaus, though only in his early 20s, was mature
enough to understand that no response is the best response.
In case you missed it, Duval's troubles in Phoenix began during
the second round, while he was on the tee of the 17th hole, a
short par-4 that can be reached with a perfect drive. He was
waiting for the group in front of him to clear the green when a
woman in the gallery announced that she missed his goatee. Duval
smiled and rubbed his chin. That emboldened a man on the other
side of the tee to shout, "Do you like my goatee."
"Yeah," the woman yelled back. "What bar would you like to meet
me at tonight?"
Now the crowd got into it. Duval had been stretching his back
muscles, using an iron. "Are you going to lay up?" a man asked.
"No, I'm just warming up," Duval answered, a slight mistake.
"Have another beer." Major mistake. Someone else, still assuming
Duval was going to lay up, shouted, "Next time, wear a skirt."
On the back nine on Saturday the heckling increased, with folks
applauding Duval's mistakes and cheering for more. Unstrung,
Duval finally responded with a subtle but clearly visible
extension of his middle finger. He had been in contention after
a front-nine 32, but on the back he lost his composure, shot 41
and dropped from sight. Fuming, he signed his scorecard with
barely a glance and cleared out his locker, an indication that
he might not show up the next day. He did, but only a short time
before he was scheduled to tee off. He shot a commendable 69,
finishing 30th and then departed. Phoenix may not see him again
until it snows hard enough to go snowboarding.
As a youth Duval was reportedly arrogant, brash and rude, but he
is an intelligent young man with a sweet golf game, and his
greatest moments are still ahead. That's why I was disappointed
by how he handled himself in Scottsdale. I'm not talking about
his getting into a brouhaha with the rowdies. What bothers me
are a couple other things.
His digital response, for one. That was immature, not worthy of
him or the game he represents. Second, his cursory glance at his
scorecard and his decision to clean out his locker. He knows
that when you enter a tournament, you sign on for the duration,
and unless you are injured or you have a personal emergency, you
play as hard as you can. Had there been a mistake on the
scorecard and Duval had been disqualified for signing it, that
would have been bush. Threatening not to return for Sunday's
round was bush. The vast majority of the gallery had paid to
watch great golf and perhaps to see Duval shoot, if not another
59, something memorable.
I hope Duval is big enough to give the tournament another chance
next year and, better yet, win it.
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK
Unstrung by the heckling, Duval finally responded with a subtle
but clearly visible extension of his middle finger.