I have just celebrated my first anniversary with GOLF MAGAZINE, and I’m delighted to tell you that Editor-In-Chief George Peper, in his infinite wisdom (or another act of lunacy), has decided to give me another chance.
I’ve written for a couple of other publications in the past, but I’ve never enjoyed the artistic license or leeway that I’ve been allowed here. So, I’d like to thank all of you who have been kind enough to write with your comments. Well, nearly all of you.
Speaking of you, I’m going to now turn my attention in your direction and examine the many different varieties of spectator/fan that line the fairways on tours around the world.
In my travels, I’ve noticed there is no such thing as “the average fan.” Each one is different and these variations become more obvious as we travel from country to country. For example, the European spectator has about 100 different subspecies. The American variety has about half that many, which are at times a little more outrageous, if not more original.
Take Greensboro, North Carolina, for instance. In the 1994 Greater Greensboro Open, I had occasion to ask a fan, who was obviously slightly on the Anheuser side of Busch, to be quiet. He turned around, dropped his drawers, and mooned me.
Seldom one to be stuck for words, I replied, “Fair enough. At least that end of you is quiet.” Sadly, it wasn’t for long and there is no answer to that.
One of the most interesting breeds of European spectators is the Swede. The Swedish golf fan is one of the hardiest in the world. Sweden gave us the spiked Wellington boot (even though we didn’t want it), so a little wind and rain is unlikely to scare them off the golf course.
Swedes wear their ball caps so tight that even when the wind blows hard enough to invert the bill, it never blows off their heads. This, of course, cuts off circulation to the brain, so incredibly tight trousers must be worn to equalize the pressure (see Jesper Parnevik). Otherwise they’d faint at the top of the backswing. And you thought it was merely a fashion statement.
A little farther south we find the Germans, who are some of the most disciplined fans in the world. They always obey the rules whether it be on the golf course or on the highway. If you hit a good shot at the German Open, they are wildly enthusiastic, and if you hit a bad one, they almost seem puzzled by your lack of efficiency.
However, do not be fooled by that seemingly rigid exterior. Beneath that shell sometimes beats the heart of a true maniac. Once, at the BMW International in Munich, I was driven from the hotel to the golf course by a very pretty young German woman in a very fast BMW. She asked me if I was a nervous passenger, to which I, of course, replied in the extremely macho negatory mode.
Sixty-three miles and 24 minutes later I stepped out at the golf course. You do the math. At one point, we were nudging the underside of 280 kilometers per hour. (I’ll do the math for you this time –180 mph.)
Needless to say, I chatted casually on the way, too cool for words, but I can assure you if someone had slipped a lump of coal between my buttocks before we left, it would have been a diamond by the time we arrived.
We Irish are almost the exact opposite of the French in that we dress badly, can’t cook, can’t stand each other, and love everyone else. (I hope I’m offending every nation equally here.) So, it was always interesting for me to play the Lancome Trophy, just outside Paris.
It felt like a huge fashion show, with a golf tournament as a sideshow. The crowd came out to view each other, but even this was less weird than the Madrid Open, which I was lucky enough to win in 1992, in front of a crowd of, ahem, members only, please.
I wouldn’t have minded but the Real Club de Puerto de Hierro has more bunkers than members.
Playing in Australia is always an experience and particularly when one is paired with Greg Norman. Once in Melbourne, he was jeered and booed by a small group of placard-waving, egg-throwing, anti-apartheid demonstrators, who objected to his visits to South Africa. (Presumably they were content with the plight of the Aborigines in their own country.)
A group of the gallery, bless their cotton socks, took the time and trouble to climb the fence, chase the idiots down the street, and beat the crap out of them. The moral presumably is that sport, beer, and politics don’t mix in Australia.
But enough of this non-resident nation-bashing. What about the average American fan? Sorry, you don’t exist, either. This country is just as diverse as Europe, even though we only speak a couple of languages here.
If my flatulent friend in Greensboro weren’t enough, I was exposed to another underwear event in that fair city. Later that same week, I was standing on the fringe of the putting green, chipping and answering questions of a nice elderly gentleman who stood behind me.
After some minutes, I turned to sign his hat and noticed that his voluminous drawstring shorts were around his ankles. Worse than that, he was wearing a pair of antique Fruit of the Looms that had been rendered more “O” than “Y” in front by the passing of, among other things, time.
When I pointed this out, he calmly bent over and hoisted his shorts up to just below his armpits. He tied the drawstring into a lovely bow, straightened his cap, thanked me, and sauntered casually away, leaving me in what felt like The Twilight Zone.
Now, picture this: In Orlando, I was asked for my autograph by another elderly gentleman, thankfully this time, fully clothed. Apparently, the autograph was for his grandson (who has to be 40 if he’s a day).
I signed my name on a Rolodex card and handed it back. He looked at it, turned it over, signed his name in an elegant hand, and gave it back to me.
“What’s this for?” I asked.
“It’s my autograph,” he says. “You can read it, can’t you?”
“Yes, I can.”
“Well, I can’t read yours, so I don’t know who the hell you are, and you can keep your damn signature until you learn how to write.”
Well, excuuuuuuuuuse me, and I’m back in the Zone.
Playing in Boston for me is like playing the Irish Open, except there are more Irish spectators in Boston, all of whom had one thing in common during the 1994 Bank of Boston: They all wanted to get me hammered.
Fortunately, only seven or eight of them succeeded. I was eventually beaten into second place by the evil Kenneth Perry. I think he was run out of town by a shillelagh-waving mob.
I often wonder what would have happened that week if I could have remembered who I was. I probably would have missed the cut.
Next stop: New York and the lovely Westchester Country Club, where the fans have a tendency to conduct conversations across fairways at the top of their lungs-and at the top of your backswing.
“Hey, Joey! Where in the helluvya been?” Combine that with the beefed up security that follows Tiger Woods these days and you get the rent-a-cop who has watched too many Steven Seagal movies.
Last year at Westchester, I was patroling the park with Tiger, wearing my customary CBS cap and carrying my mike flagged with the CBS logo. Assuming I was a heavily disguised spectator, the would-be Mr. Seagal attempted to physically remove me from the premises while I was trying to answer an unusually intelligent question from Gary McCord. I don’t think this would have happened in California.
Of course, not all golf fans remotely resemble those I’ve just described. Some are dedicated, intelligent, polite, clean, thrifty, brave, and reverent. (No, that’s the Boy Scouts.) It’s just that the ones who get noticed are the same ones who tend to gravitate toward me.
And, they say opposites attract. Hmmmm. I don’t think so.