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Unruly fans becoming the norm on PGA Tour

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Fans at other golf courses are following the lead of those at the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale.
(Robert Laberge / Getty Images)

It’s become as much a part of players’ lives on the PGA Tour as double bogeys, rain delays and Monday morning playoffs, and just about as pleasant.

Fans who cross the line between cheering and jeering — shouting during backswings or while players are preparing to make a shot — sometimes present as big a challenge as a 220-yard carry over water to a green the size of a golf cap.

At the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where the fan experience is highlighted by the stadium seating surrounding the par-three 16th hole, razzing has become the norm. Players are routinely booed for missing the green, and many players enjoy the rowdy atmosphere … as long as it doesn’t actually affect play.

This year, Rickie Fowler said he thought the fans went from exuberant to excessive.

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“I may be somewhat of a fan favorite, but they weren’t holding back,” he said. “The normal boos for missing a green, that’s fine, but leave the heckling to a minimum and make it fun.”

The excessive behavior of a few also has been on display this week at Riviera Country Club during the Genesis Open.

“I guess they think it’s funny,” Justin Thomas said after Saturday’s round.

“But when people are now starting to time it wrong and get in people’s swings, it is completely unacceptable. We’re out here playing for a lot of money, a lot of points, and a lot of things can happen. You would just hate to have something happen because of that.”

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Thomas was paired with Tiger Woods for the first two rounds and had to deal with the enormous gallery that always follows Woods. “It was pretty wild,” he said.

Mark Russell, the tour’s vice president of rules, said the crowd behavior at Riviera is similar to what’s seen each week on the tour.

“Any time you deal with the general public you’re going to have a few yahoos who act like fools, yell things and do things,” he said Sunday. “It’s inevitable that .0001% is going to act like a jackass.

“We want the fans to enjoy themselves, but in no way can you disturb the players.”

Rory McIlroy recognizes the fan experience that goes with the Tiger phenomenon is double edged.

“It’s nice to play in front of crowds like that; it’s awesome,” he said of playing with Woods the first two rounds.

But he acknowledged the downside, too, particularly for Woods, who once again is the biggest drawing card in the game after essentially being gone for 2 1/2 years.

“I swear, playing in front of all that, Tiger gives up half a shot a day on the field,” McIlroy said.

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“It’s tiring. I need a couple Advil; I’ve got a headache after all that.”

Woods was taking his backswing on a 10-foot birdie putt in the final round three weeks ago at the Farmers Insurance Open when a fan screamed, “Get in the hole!” Woods missed the putt.

“It’s cost me a lot of shots over the years,” he said after missing the cut at Riviera on Friday. “It’s cost me a few tournaments here and there.”

And the fan at the Farmers? “I believe he was escorted to the gate,” Russell said.


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