Mob Rule

Mob Rule

With an army of photographers between Tiger Woods and the fans, getting a glimpse of the world's No. 1 player can be tough.
Al Tielemans/SI

OAKMONT, Pa. — Doris Yates, a 64-year-old retired hair stylist, arrived with her husband at the 3rd hole at Oakmont Country Club just after 9 a.m. Saturday. She was waiting for Tiger Woods. About five hours later, when Woods appeared, with two tidy pars under his belt, Yates stood hole high to the right of the green, perfectly stationed to watch Woods roll in his first birdie of the day.

Then the Mob showed up, and Yates missed the putt.

“You wait and you wait,” she said, shaking her head. “And then this.”

Where Tiger Woods goes, so goes the Mob: a swelling herd of reporters, photographers, commentators, cameramen, sound guys, spotters, tournament officials, handlers and hangers-on. They follow Tiger’s every step like Vatican bodyguards trailing the Pope. The inevitable result, along every tee box, fairway and green, is a slew of disappointed and often disgruntled spectators who in some cases have waited hours for a front-row glimpse of Woods only to get a close-up of sweaty-backed writers and camera lenses the size of bazookas.

And some fans aren’t shy about voicing their disapproval.

“Hey, white shirt, sidooooown!” one spectator yelled at a USGA official impeding the view of Woods’s birdie putt at the par-3 8th.

“Nice seats, Brian,” another fan said to his friend after their sightline was blocked by a troupe of photographers at the 5th.

“Hey, XM!” a fan snarled at the XM Radio reporter who was standing greenside at the 9th as Woods stalked yet another birdie putt. The reporter turned around, glared at the fan, and grudgingly took a knee.

And so it went today at Oakmont, and always goes when Woods, or Phil Mickelson for that matter, is near. It’s a situation unique to golf: Spend $78 on a field-level ticket to Yankee Stadium, and you’re guaranteed nine innings of unobstructed A-Rod. Drop $99 for admission to the Daytona 500, and you’ll get unimpeded, if distant, views of Jimmie Johnson’s stockcar. But spend $375 for a four-day grounds pass to the U.S. Open, and there’s no telling what you’ll see.

Or won’t see, particularly if you’ve come to watch Woods.

“It’s a joke,” Russell Ward, a corporate lawyer from Michigan, said of the Mob’s “utter disregard for us.”

“It’s like we’re not even here,” he added, straining for a view at the 9th green, where at least 100 Mobsters lingered near the gallery rope.

Talk to the Mob, of course, and you’ll get a different take.

“They’ve been bitchin’ and moanin’ all day,” Rex Brown, a photographer for Ai Wire, said as he awaited Woods’s approach shot at No. 7. “It’s just ridiculous.”

“I’m trying to respect people, but I’m just doing my job,” he said, a refrain you’ll hear from many members of the Mob.

Doug Ferguson, the AP’s golf writer and longtime Mobster, was on the course earlier this week when a fan yelled to an NBC cameraman setting up his equipment in front of the gallery: “Hey, I paid for my ticket!”

“I was thinking to myself, ‘Yeah, and NBC paid like $25 million for theirs,’ ” Ferguson said.

“Sometimes I just don’t understand it,” he said. “If you’re a knowledgeable fan, the last thing you should want to do is stand behind certain areas of the tee where you know the cameras are going to be.”

Ferguson also said he’s amazed by how awed the spectators look as the Mob strolls by. “To see a trail of however many photographers and 20 to 25 reporters, and then the security detail and officials,” he said, “it’s stunning to them.”

And then there is the sarcastic commentary from the fans. Mark Stahl, a photographer for Icon Sports, said he hears the same old jokes whenever he’s shooting Woods. “Usually about whether there’s enough of us covering him,” he said.

Today one fan unleashed this beauty as the Mob strolled by: “Christ, get a real job.”

Insults and all, the Mob marches on, one Woods shot at a time. And if today’s third round was any indication, the Mob is not the note-taking, photo-snapping, view-impeding monster some fans accuse it of being. Sometimes, despite what the gallery thinks, the fans are actually on the Mob’s mind.

Brown, the photographer, said he occasionally even moves so the crowd can see.

“I’ve got 18 holes to get what I need,” he said. “They’ve only got one.”