GOLF / FRED ROBLEDO : Access to Players, Wide-Open Spaces Can Make Security Difficult

Nobody likes to talk about it, but golf officials took notice when Monica Seles was stabbed in the back by a fan at a tennis tournament in Germany.

Some view it as an isolated incident, an unpredictable act by a deranged fan.

But others are starting to recognize that when large crowds gather to watch sporting events, there is always a chance that it can be spoiled by a loose cannon looking for attention.

Beefed-up security can protect athletes in most sports. But in golf, there is little protection. There is no getting around fans having access to the players.

Golfers are followed by fans every time they leave the clubhouse, when they leave the putting green, when they leave the driving range, when they walk between holes and especially when they leave the scoring tent at the end of a round.

Usually, all anybody wants is an autograph, a wave, a golf ball, a comment about the round.

They're simply being fans.

There have been some isolated incidents, but nothing that resulted in a golfer being put out of action.

Greg Norman did a dangerous thing during the 1986 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, N.Y. He reacted to the taunts of a fan who had been drinking on a hot day. After Norman hit a bad drive at the 10th hole during the third round, the fan called him a choker.

Norman challenged the fan to meet him in the parking lot.

"That was probably the dumbest thing I have ever done on a golf course," Norman said after the incident. "But the guy was a jerk."

Mac O'Grady once had to wrestle a man to the ground after a round. It seemed the man was the father of O'Grady's caddie and didn't like the way his son had been treated.

Those are mild cases.

Someone called and threatened the life of Hubert Green at the 1977 U.S. Open. Green was told about the call with four holes to play. He finished the round and won the tournament.

Jan Stephenson was followed from tournament to tournament in the 1980s by an obsessed fan who kept sending her flowers.

Gary Player's gallery had plenty of security at La Costa one year when he was picketed on the course because he was from South Africa.

"It's not an easy thing to do, controlling so many people," said Mike Davis, manager of relations for the U.S. Open, which will be played at Baltusrol, in Springfield, N.J., next month.

"The Seles incident was talked about, but it's not really anything that relates to golf. Tennis is played in one arena. Our game is played over 150 acres. It's impossible to assign enough people to protect 156 golfers in the kind of atmosphere we have at a U.S. Open."

Davis said tickets have been limited to slightly more than 29,000 paid per day. When volunteer workers are added to the mix, Davis estimated there will be close to 38,000 fans at the course each day.

"Our security bill is going to be overwhelming," Davis said. "But we aren't looking at it so much as security for the players as much as for crowd control. There are some players like Jack Nicklaus who get special attention because he attracts a bigger crowd, but we're going to be out there just to make sure Mr. Nicklaus is able to walk through the crowd."

Davis worries about unruly fans and what they might do. But worry is about all he can do.

"I don't know what steps would be taken if something (like the Seles incident) ever happened in golf," Davis said. "It's obviously the easiest sport for a fan to get close to a player."

The LPGA Tour takes a similar stance. "Of course it's cause for concern," said Elaine Scott, director of communications for the women's tour. "But we think we make it as safe as we possibly can, within the confines of our sport.

"We are comfortable with our security, but we did react when Monica was stabbed in Germany. We didn't do anything official. It wasn't an agenda item, but it has been talked about. We just don't think we can do any more than we're already doing. I think our players feel safe."

That might not be the same feeling Norman will have at Baltusrol, especially because of its proximity to New York, where even golf galleries have some rough edges.

Norman had some unkind things to say about New York area golf fans in the past, and little has happened since then to make him change his mind.

The best thing Norman can do to keep the crowds off his back is to keep his shots in the fairways and his opinions about the fans to himself.

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Susan Rennie, a member of the Rancho Park Women's Club, shot rounds of 80-76-76--232 in winning the Los Angeles City Women's Golf Championship at Rancho Park by two strokes over Andrea Gaston of Canoga Park.

Mary Budke, who won the tournament in 1990 and 1992, was another two strokes back in third place.

Golf Notes

More than $140,000 was raised in the WINGS (Women In Need Growing Strong, a shelter for battered women and their children) Celebrity tournament at Sierra La Verne Country Club. Robert Wagner, Charlie Jones, Richard Roundtree and former Dodger Tommy Davis were among the celebrities in the event. . . . Four former champions will be in the field in the $100,000 Queen Mary Open, starting today at Lakewood Country Club, but there will be no defending champion because Mac O'Grady has decided not to play. The former champions in the 208-player field are Mike Krantz, 1975; Jeff Wilson, 1986; Kevin Sutherland, 1990, and Bob Lasken, 1991. . . . The third annual Los Angeles Golf Tournament, benefiting the National Jewish Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine, will be played at Wood Ranch in Simi Valley on June 7. Details: Cynthia Short (818) 905-1300.

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