Woods' saga blurs lines on spectator decorum

Officials seem more likely to censure fans on course for comments about him

May 06, 2010|By Jeff Shain

Three of Charlotte's finest came rushing down the slope with all the urgency that might accompany a hazardous materials leak.

Within moments, one male spectator found himself being led away swiftly from the Quail Hollow Championship's 17th green. When the man's buddy stood up to complain, the other officers descended for a round of sharp conversation.

"Do you want to give Charlotte a bad reputation?" one officer asked, cutting off the man's response to ask the question again.

Was it something someone said?

Well, yes.

Though the exact nature of the first man's comment as Tiger Woods missed the cut was a matter for debate — the buddy said it was "no red shirt for you on Sunday;" a marshal called it "too vulgar for print" — the incident fortified the idea that the antennae was calibrated to pick up unflattering words.

Now as the venue shifts to the PGA Tour's showcase event — The Players Championship — the question of where decorum's line is crossed remains hazy.

"I think it's not any different than any other situation or tournament," said Ty Votaw, who heads the PGA Tour's communications division. "Anything that tends to disrupt the smooth running of a tournament and enjoyment of the tournament by fans and players will be dealt with."

Golf, after all, always has taken pride in holding itself to a more sophisticated standard. Galleries stand still and keep quiet as competitors settle over their shots. Critical words mostly are left for players to heap on themselves. Audibly, anyway.

But the dynamic has changed and in the fallout that has accompanied Woods' sex-scandal fall from grace, some of the more boisterous fans feel compelled to vent their moral displeasure or simply want to get under his skin.

That's territory largely uncharted in golf. Where's the line?

"It's like that old adage: You don't know it until you see it," Votaw said. "It's really going to be a judgment call."

As such, it might depend on who's doing the judging.

Wide latitude was left to marshals at Quail Hollow. But what might not be offensive to some is to others.

Last Friday, 24-year-old Jimmy Sweitzer sported an orange-and-black T-shirt stating "Tiger is Grrrreat" that he told a reporter he made years ago in high school. He wore it to Quail Hollow — with a big "X" over the words in bright tape.

Innocuous stuff. Non-vocal, too. But that didn't prevent marshals from at least discussing whether he should be escorted off the property.

jshain@tribune.com

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