Time for booze to be driven out of bounds

FEW WHO have attended American golf tournaments over the past decade or so will be surprised Sunday's final of the Accenture Match Play Championship should have been marred by crowd trouble.

It has happened on a regular basis, never more so than during the 1999 Ryder Cup match at Brookline where European players were heckled and their families verbally abused.

The many Americans disgusted by the misbehaviour by a small but significant number of spectators had no doubt why it was all happening.

Booze. As simple as that.

For some unfathomable reason, fans were allowed transport glasses of beer in six-pack carriers all over the course. As the excitement mounted and the sun shone down mercilessly, it inevitably took its toll. Colin Montgomerie's father felt obliged to leave the course such was the venom being fired at his son, a fact appreciated by Monty's opponent, the late Payne Stewart. The American demanded that it should stop and he eventually conceded a longish putt on the final green such was the extent of his embarrassment.

True, the antics of many of Stewart's team-mates contributed to the mayhem that ensued, culminating in the war dance on the 17th green when Justin Leonard holed the tramliner that ensured the return of the cup to American hands. Many of those players subsequently apologised but their supporters were having none of that. They were well tanked up, Uncle Sam was triumphant, and that was all that mattered.

If this was the most apparent demonstration of rank bad manners by American spectators, there have been numerous others most notably at the 2002 US Open at Bethpage Park when the New Yorkers let off an unbelievable amount of steam without ever actually interfering directly with any competitor.

So there shouldn't have been any great element of shock on Sunday when one individual, apparently full of liquor and with a burning monetary desire for a Tiger Woods win, heckled Davis Love 111 unmercifully. "Do you want a beer?", Love was frequently asked as he walked from green to tee. "No Love, No Love", shouted our friend as Davis prepared to play.

Just as with Payne Stewart at Brookline, Love's opponent on Sunday was so disgusted that he tried to console him and actually conceded a difficult putt to try and assuage his sense of outrage. Nor was Tiger for pulling his punches at the finish.

"We are unfortunate to be living in a time that has changed quite a bit," he accepted. "Fifteen, 20 years ago, things were not like that. They don't have to yell because the ball gets airborne. We are pros, we can get the ball in the air. There were a few times when I knew Davis was about to snap. The guy should not have been there. You are going to vent your feelings. I think it all started with Daly winning the PGA at Crooked Stick. That's when the fans flocked to the game who had never thought about coming out to watch golf before then."

Woods also used the Masters as the yardstick by which spectators should conduct themselves: "It's great when they police themselves at tournaments such as Augusta. You have true golf fans and while there may be a few who yell too much, they still police themselves."

TIGER could have added that the concession stands at Augusta close at 3 pm in the afternoon nor will you ever see anybody carry a glass anywhere near the golf course itself. Try that one and you'll never see the inside of Augusta National again!

Things got so bad at one stage on Sunday that Davis Love threatened not to carry on playing until the miscreant was thrown out. That finally, if belatedly, came to pass and Love wasn't averse to airing his views having gone down to Woods by 3 and 2.

"I don't care if I win or lose, you've got to respect the game and the players in the game", he asserted.

"He did not deserve to watch golf. Once we narrowed it down, they got rid of him. When you play a great player, you know the fans will be against you but when they're heckling you, it becomes very difficult to concentrate so we had get rid of him. He was timing it just right, when I was starting to hit shots. I just said I'm not leaving here until I know who it is. This is a business for us. I don't go into your office and screw you up so don't you come into my office and screw me up."

Indeed. Now more than ever, it behoves the US PGA to ensure that the sale of alcohol is far more stringently overseen and that it should never be allowed on the actual playing arena itself. It doesn't happen at the British Open Championship or at tournaments on the European Tour. That doesn't mean you can't get as sloshed as you like but if that's what you want, you will be a long way from the players. That's the route our American friends must also go down.

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