I remember somewhat vividly the only time I ve been heckled while doing my job.
It happened years ago at Anderson Arena. I was sitting in the crow s nest press box moments after a game, beating away on my laptop, trying to make a deadline, when a patron of Bowling Green State University basketball paused in the top row of seats to enlighten me on my writing skills.
“Hackenberg, you $$&%# stink. You couldn t write a check. You re a miserable excuse for a %$& sports writer. You make me sick, you $%.”
Now I have to admit, the guy got my goat. He was about 5-6, maybe 140 pounds, meaning I had about nine inches and nine waist sizes on him. I m normally a pacifist, but I figured if there was one guy in the arena I could kick the %#$& out of, it was him. So I momentarily forgot about my deadline, stood up, and suggested we take it outside. He disappeared in the blink of an eye.
Ooooooh. Tough guy. Me? Yeah, right.
DENIS POROY / AP Enlarge
I wish Davis Love III had been either more or less of a tough guy last weekend.
Love was heckled by a spectator during his Match Play Championship finale against Tiger Woods. The man reacted with a “Whoop!” when Love missed a par putt on the 20th hole that squared the match, then yelled “No Love!” as DL-III began to address his tee ball three holes later.
Love backed off, walked over to the gallery ropes and said, “Who said that? We re not leaving until he s out of here.”
A man wearing a Tiger Woods logo hat was identified as the culprit and was ejected from the premises. Coincidentally or not, Love did not win another hole and Woods eventually captured the match, 3 and 2, and the title.
We might have thought more of Love, and I think he would have felt better about himself, had he walked over to the ropes and said, “Hey, jerk, you and me in the clubhouse parking lot when the match is over. Got it?”
That kind of black eye would have been preferable to this kind of black eye.
His best move, of course, would have been to ignore it. Instead, Love came off as a whiny, mamby-pamby crybaby whose feelings were hurt by some loudmouth lug.
Fact is, pro golfers are going to have to grow a thicker skin. They may be gentlemen playing a gentleman s game, but the galleries, like society, are changing. They are no longer filled only with gentlemen and gentlewomen. It may still be a country club, but without the country club mentality. The upper crust may have clubhouse credentials and access to the wine cellar, but anybody with a wad of cash and an ID can get in the beer line.
For better or worse, stars like John Daly and Woods have brought another element of society to the golf course. They are not necessarily golf fans. They are sports fans, the same type of rowdies who jeer athletes in college and pro stadiums and arenas from coast to coast. The same fans whose favorite word has become “suck.”
It s no longer sufficient to root for someone to win. Now, we cheer for people to lose.
Things were different when fans had a passion for, say, Ben Hogan or Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus. They cheered without reserve for their man. They respected his opponents.
Ask Scott Hoch, which rhymes with choke, if times have changed. Ask Colin Montgomerie, a walking mound of neurosis around fans everywhere. Ask Vijay Singh.
At last summer s U.S. Open I walked several holes with Singh in the aftermath of his ill-conceived comments regarding Annika Sorenstam s participation in a PGA Tour event. Singh has other skeletons in his closet too, including an alleged cheating incident long ago on a foreign tour.
Vijay took a heap of abuse that day. I was actually shocked at some of the things yelled in his direction by people in the crowd. I know he heard much of it too, although he reacted as if he was stone-cold deaf. It went in one ear and out the other as he tended to his business.
Love will regret that he was unable to do the same. The unwashed masses have a new target now. Pity DL-III when the U.S. Open rolls into Shinnecock Hills in June, and all those New Yawkers disembark from the Long Island Railroad, quench their thirst and flock onto the golfing grounds.
“I think it s our whole society,” Love said, correctly. “They don t respect what people do, don t respect elders, don t respect other people s space, don t respect tradition or etiquette or customs. [The heckler was] just another one of those fans that doesn t respect the game. He didn t deserve to watch golf. I don t come into your office and screw you up. Don t come into my office and screw me up.”
Ah, but it s a new day at the office for one and all in sports. Golfers are fairly blameless, but respect for pro athletes and their games has been forfeited via steroid scandals, alcohol and drug abuse, arrests and ludicrous contracts. Throwing tomatoes at the burlesque stage is back in vogue. Jeers now come with the price of admission.
Thick skin, boys. Thick skin.