Long before Jim Furyk became a major champion and 2018 US captain of the Ryder Cup, he tried to Monday Qualify for the Buick Classic at Knollwood Country Club in Elmsford, NY.
Furyk remembers making birdie at 17 to go 4 under and give himself a chance to be among the low four scores and earn a berth into New York’s PGA Tour event. Walking to the 18th tee, an older gentleman with a deep, gravelly New York accent asked, “How do you stand boy?”
When Furyk filled him in, he said, “You’re in, boy, you’re in.”
“It straightened me up and lifted my confidence,” Furyk said. “But he must have been a sports psychologist because the next thing he said was amazing. I walked by and he said, ‘Just don’t screw up 18.’ “
That was Furyk’s introduction to the Nooo Yawk sports fan, some of the most passionate in the world. They will always let you know where you stand.
Rory McIlroy competed in his first US Open in 2009 at Bethpage State Park’s Black Course and remembers teeing off after a lengthy rain delay around 5pm in front of some fans who’d obviously spent the break in the action by consuming several adult beverages.
“This guy is cheering and we’re walking off the tee box and he walks away from the rope line and he throws up. He’s sick, comes back to the rope line, and starts cheering again,” McIlroy recalled. “I’m like, Is this what golf is like in the United States?”
“New York crowds are great and I must admit, I do like a little bit of boisterousness in the crowd,” said Pádraig Harrington. “If I was at a golf event, I’d be like that. Players love to be out there and have a buzz about the course.”
The fans in New York don’t hold back. There’s even a term for their form of jeers — the Bronx cheer, named for one of New York City’s five boroughs and defined as a sound of contempt or derision, made by blowing through closed lips, usually with the tongue protruding. McIlroy hasn’t forgotten when he got a taste of a good-natured taunting during the 2009 US Open here.
“At that time, I had the big hair and stuff,” McIlroy said. “I heard this guy on the back of the tee say, ‘Get a haircut. Get a haircut.’ I turned around and this guy had hair down to his shoulders.”
That abuse was mild compared to what some players have faced. In 2002, monthly US magazine Golf Digest distributed 25,000 ‘Be Nice to Monty’ badges in anticipation of old rabbit ears Colin Montgomerie being an obvious target at the US Open. Instead, the fans gravitated to berating Spain’s Sergio Garcia and his issues with regripping over the ball. The fans counted aloud and teased him with shouts of “Waggle Boy”.
Garcia let it all get under his skin and raised his middle finger. But the fans of the Big Apple also adopt some as their own.
It’s no coincidence that Phil Mickelson is New York’s favourite son. The love affair began here in 2002, when they serenaded him with Happy Birthday. They love him because he embodies the spirit of the New Yorkers better than anyone in golf. They believe he’s one of them. He may be a Californian by birth, but he’s got a New York esprit de corps.
“It’s the best playing here. It really is,” Mickelson told the Golf Channel on Wednesday. “I would love nothing more than to have a victory here and be able to feed off the energy here that the people have provided me over the years and be able to reward it with a victory.”
This week, to borrow a lyric from Billy Joel, Mickelson is in a New York state of mind. His golf bag is emblazoned with an image of the Statue of Liberty and he tweeted out his version of the ‘I Love New York’ logo with his own silhouette in the place of the heart. It was at the 2016 PGA Championship at Baltusrol in neighbouring New Jersey, where Mickelson’s three kids observed the way the fans embraced their dear, old dad and came to a novel realization: “Dad, you’re really cool,” they said.
Sure, there are a few knuckleheads shouting “Baba Booey” and “Light the candle”, but for the most part they are a knowledgeable bunch, here for the entertainment, to see good competition, and bear witness to Tigermania 2.0.
“If there were 40,000 people on the grounds, 35,000 were with Tiger, another 4,000 were in the merchandise tent, and we had about 1,000 with us,” Graeme McDowell said on Thursday.
Was there really that many people following McDowell’s group, he was asked?
McDowell never hesitated. “Some of them were just lost and looking for Tiger,” he said.