Notes From the US Senior Open - Saturday

Photo courtesy of WWW.USGA.ORG No other use is permitted.

t’s the third day of competition and scores are going low as temperatures go high. This morning, when I followed stellar amateur Tim Jackson, it wasn’t so bad. But by late this afternoon, the sun felt merciless.

The course was largely empty when the first groups went off this morning. People were, I suppose, waiting for later when the leaders would tee off. But even by 4:30 or so, the only packed areas were around the tees and greens.

That leads me to a new strategy for watching a tournament. Instead of standing around a tee, or sitting in sun drenched bleaches around a green, I think the best thing to do is to sit along the ropes in the middle of a par 4. Figure out where most of the tee shots are landing, and park your lawn chair under a nearby tree. With a set of binoculars, you’ll be able to see who’s on the tee box (at most 300 yards away), and watch the balls landing. Then, you’ll have an unobstructed, naked-eye view of their shots at the green. Finally, with the binoculars, you’ll have a terrific view of the players’ work around the greens.

I saw several groups doing just that. Their lawn chairs even had foot rests. They were by far the coolest—and smartest—looking people on the course.

Its always astonishing to me just how quiet it is at a golf tournament. On most holes, the loudest noise comes from the generators at nearby venues. Golf fans have to be the most polite, most conscientious spectators in the world. They’re also quite neat.

Still, there’s the occasional “oops.” At one point, near the 18th green, a senior in a power cart (provided by the USGA for the less than mobile) backed up over the foot of the guy behind him. The younger man screamed, causing the senior to stop—right on his foot. He kept shouting “go forward, go forward” as Scott Simpson was trying to make his putt. I’m not sure it made a difference, though.

The other break in the quiet is the roar of a crowd around a green as a player chips in or makes a good putt. I’ve an idea that you could measure cheer intensity in decibels and have a good idea of the length of that chip in or putt.

Some disturbances are unavoidable. This morning, a group of rangers and I watched a very large snapping turtle wander up past the tee on 14. A little later, having apparently seen enough golf, he turned around and headed back to the creek fronting the teeing ground. The turtle understandably caused a bit of a stir.

Finally, there’s the occasional cretin. At one point, while heading to the interview area, I saw an older woman with a cell phone behind the first tee’s grandstands, talking loudly with someone, trying to explain where she was.  I was surprised that none of the nearby security or USGA personnel pounced and took the device. But that was just one of the dozens of phones I saw. That lady was likely to be the same person later in the day talking loudly to a neighbor in the grandstands. Some people are just oblivious to propriety.

The USGA has some fairly strict rules about cell phones, cameras, PDAs and other devices, including anything that can make a noise—such as an ipod with a speaker. They’ve also banned tweeting and “live” reporting from the course. Any report has to be at least 15 minutes old. But these regulations are blatantly disregarded by large numbers of fans. You can’t look about seriously without seeing a cell phone on a belt or in use, an ipod, or even a fan taking a photo for posterity. Ninety nine and 44/100s of them aren’t causing any problem.

iven the typically polite and respectful nature of the fans, I think it may be time for the USGA to rethink its policy on phones—much as the PGA Tour has done. Rather than making potential “criminals” of cell phone users, set aside cell phone areas. Looking at the course setup this week, I can see a number of places that could be used for cell phones—typically around the food and drink venues (which already are noisy and set well away from critical areas). Tweeting strikes me as a positive thing—certainly the Crowne Plaza Invitational thought so, with their legions of Tweet Caddies. I loved the way the Crowne Plaza had spectator tweets feeding live across the bottom of their electronic scoreboards.

Sometimes you just have to ride the roller coaster in the direction it’s going. For years, I banned gum, food and drink from my classroom, but found evidence of their use constantly: gum stuck to desks, chip dust and drink residue on the floors. The kids were better at hiding food than I was at detecting it.  So one year, I decided to make it all legit. The result: no more hidden gum mess, or chip pieces or drinks spilled from furtive sips out of purses and backpacks. I’ve found the same thing with cheating. Rather than trying to keep the cheaters from gaining a competitive advantage over the honest kids (students are impossibly clever at cheating), I’ve run experiments where every kid was allowed to bring a small “cheat sheet” for use. Scores didn’t go up, but the number of complaints from the “good kids” about their fellows’ cheating techniques dropped to zero.

Its just this: Golf tournament organizers need to find a way to turn a perceived negative into a positive. I believe that the fans will respond well.

This just in (fifteen minutes after the fact, as required):

Olin Browne heads into the final round at -15, having led all three days. Mark O’Meara, at 13 under, is in second, where he has been all week. They’ll tee off again together tomorrow.

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