Kenneth Burns: A message for golf fans: Pipe down

Aug. 25, 2013 @ 08:39 AM

I’m surprised Jim Furyk didn’t melt the camera.

On Sunday, Aug. 11, at the PGA Championship, pro golfer Furyk teed off at the 16th hole. Then, wearing a really annoyed expression, he turned toward the spectators. He glared right into the television camera, and he looked so angry that, sitting at home on my couch, I squirmed. I wanted to apologize.

Why was he mad? He was in contention at the season’s final major championship, which Jason Dufner won a few minutes later. Just as Furyk struck his ball, the crowd erupted, in the way crowds do at golf tournaments now. The calm of Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., gave way in an instant to cacophony.

Furyk was, obviously, rattled by the noise. It may well have affected his game.

I loathe this tradition. It’s obnoxious. Someone make it stop.

It started some years back. A spectator apparently thought it would be funny to yell “Get in the hole!” just as a golfer struck the ball. And it probably was funny at first. But as with a knock-knock joke that a preschooler shares for the 20th time, the gag didn’t get funnier with repetition.

But oh, it was repeated. These days, “Get in the hole!” is as much a staple of televised golf as those loving shots of azaleas at the Masters tournament.

Sometimes people yell it when the ball could indeed get in the hole, as when someone is putting, or teeing off on a par-three hole. But why do people yell it when a golfer is at the tee on a par five? Do they imagine that this incantation will create a magic wind that will lift up the ball and carry it 500 yards to the cup?

No. They’re yelling for the glory, such as it is. They know they will be heard on television. They can come home from the tournament, cue up the recording on the TiVo and listen, over and over, to their disruptive screams. And feel proud.

You might object: Pro golfers are serious athletes, and they’re competing for serious money. They train hard. A little yelling shouldn’t bother them. It doesn’t seem to bother athletes in baseball, football, basketball. They play in front of thousands of screaming fans.

But as a friend pointed out to me the other day, those athletes usually aren't playing mere feet from the screaming fans. Those athletes also don’t otherwise play in total silence, as golfers do.

It’s true that we shouldn’t feel too sorry for the golfers, though. They’re going to be fine.

Here’s my problem: The screaming makes for bad television.

I love watching golf on the tube. It can be riveting and suspenseful, and the quiet of the golf course is a big part of that. The golfers, whom we watch in extreme close-ups, are intense and fascinating in their silence.

The fans are less fascinating. They’re not the reason I watch golf. I don’t want to think about them. When they’re yelling non sequiturs, I’m thinking about them.

You might also object: Golf needs to build its audience, and its reputation for fussiness may not be helping that effort.

That’s a valid point. Fans should feel like they’re having fun. Getting shushed isn’t fun.

The PGA Tour could build on the experience of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which is played every winter. That tournament’s 16th hole is surrounded by stands filled with boisterous spectators. They cheer good shots and jeer bad ones. It looks like marvelous fun, and the golfers seem to enjoy the crowd. The good-natured golfers do, anyway.

Maybe there could be other opportunities for crowds to get noisy. Select opportunities. Contained opportunities.

If there were, maybe then officials would clamp down on the gratuitous yelling the rest of the time.

Kenneth Burns is Community News Editor of The Mountain Press. Call 428-0748, ext. 212, or send e-mail to Twitter: @KennethBurns.