Fans at Torrey Pines need to make some noise

June 14, 2008

SAN DIEGO — Maybe it’s the relaxing sea breezes. Maybe the fans aren’t drinking enough beer. Or maybe the famed San Diego newsman Ron Burgundy muffed his signature sign-off during a recent telecast and said, “Stay quiet, San Diego.”

Whatever the cause, Torrey Pines ain’t Bethpage.

Through two rounds at this “Second People’s Open” — Bethpage Black, also a municipal course, hosted the first “People’s Open,” in 2002 — the vibe is more John Tesh than John Madden. Sure, the galleries are huge, but who hit the mute button? Tiger and Phil are allegedly playing in the same group, but I’ve heard louder roars at a bridge game.

“I think the atmosphere here is great,” Padraig Harrington said today after a 67 that should have left exuberance echoing through the pines. “But Bethpage, that was the loudest tournament I’ve ever been at — in a good sense. I loved it.”

Remember that Open? Fans needled Sergio Garcia so relentlessly he returned the favor with a flip of his middle finger. Phil Mickelson backed off a birdie putt on the 14th green on Sunday because a swarm of rowdy spectators on the next tee were barking: “PHIL! PHIL! PHIL!” And George Pataki, then-governor of New York who helped bring the Open to Bethpage, was regaled at the 17th green with chants of “Four more years!”

It wasn’t a golf tournament — it was WrestleMania, where the fans made the event, not the golfers. Hell, the fans were the event.

So what’s going on here? We’re back at a muni, at an Open with more great storylines than Lost, yet the fans are treating it like a picnic. “This is Southern California,” a volunteer at the practice range told me. “We’re beach people.”

“I might be uttering an East Coast bias, but I think West Coasters pride themselves on their mellowness,” said David Fay, the USGA’s executive director and, yup, a New York native. “New York, on the other hand, is a lot of things, but it’s not mellow.”

Mellow. That’s the perfect word for Torrey Pines, which is a better name for a spa, not a brutal test of golf. Bethpage Black — now there’s a scary name. Sounds like a Shakespearian villain.

The differences don’t end there. Torrey, after a stunning drive along a high coastal road, welcomes you with sweet sea breezes and sandy goodness. Bethpage, after a traffic-plagued haul on the Long Island Expressway, greets you with a warning on the first tee: THE BLACK COURSE IS AN EXTREMELY DIFFICULT COURSE WHICH WE RECOMMEND ONLY FOR HIGHLY SKILLED GOLFERS.

Torrey has Pacific views that complete you. Bethpage has bunkers that swallow you.

Perhaps Torrey’s beauty is a sedative, inducing fans into a quiet, carefree malaise. Dumb theory? Maybe. But until the “People” start chirping and fulfill their duty in this second edition of the People’s Open, it’s the only theory I’ve got.