G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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As I drove past the golf course near my apartments the other day I had a flashback to what now seems like a previous life. I used to golf a lot. I worked as a cart boy at a municipal course that was known for having the best greens in the area.
Several of my best friends and I got swept up in the (Tiger) Woods Wave of the late 1990s. We all patched together sets of clubs and tried out for our school’s golf team on a whim our senior year. None of us made the cut. Hell, hardly any of us could make consistent contact with the ball at that point.
Driving past the course I wondered how me and my group of friends must have looked to the regulars at our local spot. We must have looked like the Bad News Bears. Besides just our low quality of play which included erroneous drives and gumming up the flow of the lower handicap regulars, we’d also test long-standing golf course codes of conduct. We’d tee off into the group ahead of us on the 95% chance that we wouldn’t hit it 280 yards and straight as an arrow. It only takes one perfect mistake to make you the course asshole for the entire day.
Besides poor play, we disrespected the course in other ways. I got into a couple of fights, sometimes with my friends and occasionally a verbal tiff with older guys in other groupings. Me and one of my friends in particular routinely broke clubs over our knees and on carts and against tree trunks because we couldn’t manage our anger. Hunting for putters in pawn shops became common. We’d often have a third guy catching a lift on the back of the cart. We’d miss tee times. We had no etiquette. We were just punks.
We became friends with a couple of kids a few years younger than us who were actual golfers on the high school team. One is now a pro on some low level tour, and the other has a PGA card and teaches somewhere in Oklahoma. They wore slacks and marked their ball on the green and waited for their proper turn and only cussed where their group could hear. All of this happened within the first year or two of Tiger Woods’ emergence.
Back when Tiger Mania first hit, the boisterous crowds attending PGA events were something new:
At the same time, spectators have become more boisterous — cheering, yelling and even heckling as Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie found out at the Open, when a fan cheered after he missed birdie putt.
”It will certainly be more carnival-like,” said Mark Brooks, who will play with Woods in the first two rounds. ”You just go out and try to stay focused and do what you have to do.”
More spectators being more animated. It’s a new dynamic on the PGA Tour, maybe not Yankee fans versus Met fans in the Bronx, but not St. Patrick’s Cathedral, either.
”Golf crowds are more demonstrative now,” said David Fay, the executive director of the United States Golf Association. ”But Americans are more demonstrative in general.”
The key difference, which I see now, is that everyone besides me and my friends (who were but one pack on one golf course) were taught how to behave on the links. My friends and I – a group of idiots who came to the game on the crest of a wave of media exposure of one exotic young golfer – just showed up like Vegas vacationers. What happened on the course stayed on the course and we had no stake in the integrity of the course. Those guys, and most people who took up golf before it become a fad were taken to the course by their dads. They didn’t misbehave or lash out because their behaviors were being tempered even as they were being developed. It was bonding rather than wilding.
When I mentioned the tension between newcomers and purists in regards to Maker’s Mark whisky, this is the type of thing I had in mind. Since their attachment to the endeavor or product in question are of different natures, a shock wave of newcomers can be disruptive.