(AP) Memorial out to battle phone distractions
By RUSTY MILLER
AP Sports Writer
There isn’t a pro golfer who doesn’t have a story about a “Play That Funky Music” ringtone coming from the gallery during a backswing, or the time a tourist with a flip phone was snapping photos in the middle of a critical putt.
The Memorial is the latest tournament to try to do something about it.
The event, which tees off next week, allows fans to carry cell phones on the course if they are put on vibrate. For the first time, a cadre of volunteers will follow the most popular groups, hoping to alleviate spectators’ loud rings and the efforts of amateur photographers.
Jack Nicklaus, founder and host of the Memorial, applauds (but not during a shot) the steps taken.
Areas will be set aside to make and take calls. The patrolling volunteers will try to clamp down on any abuses everywhere else.
A year ago at the Memorial, Phil Mickelson cited “mental fatigue” for withdrawing after the first round at Muirfield Village. Most believe the real reason was his frustration with a flood of distractions from outside the ropes involving cell phones.
As a result, the Memorial is trying to stave off a repeat.
Nothing is isolated about the problem; it’s everywhere.
Se Ri Pak was hitting a tee shot on the fourth hole of the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open when a cell phone rang in the stands. During the Web.com tour event in Panama a couple of years ago, the phone of Alastair Presnell’s caddie went off five times in seven holes. Presnell finally asked his caddie to throw the thing into a bush, which he did.
The PGA Tour and others are trying to meet people halfway. Bay Hill and The Players Championship also have volunteers who confiscate the phones of offending spectators and issue claim checks. The fans can pick up their devices later.
At last year’s PGA Championship, marshals would stop someone using their phone and put a red check mark on the back. If there was already a check mark there, meaning they had already been warned, the phone was taken away until the spectator claimed it upon leaving the course.
The British Open allowed cell phones for the first time last year but observers said there were continual abuses of fans using cameras during play. Adding to the confusion, The Open even offers tournament updates to mobile devices for those walking the course.
At the Masters, you must leave your phone at the gate. The prevailing opinion is that Augusta National will never, ever permit cell phones for spectators.
Just as cell phones have become a part of daily life, they’ve become a necessary evil for players.
Tiger Woods has won 14 major championships and is the defending champ at the Memorial, where he’s won five times. He’s grown accustomed to the snaps, clicks and rings _ although many of his playing partners have not.
Some places are worse than others for distractions. But not even the world’s No. 1 player has an answer for how to combat them.
At Woods’ own AT&T National last year, the crowds were large and particularly loud. Marshals regularly had to collect cell phones from fans caught taking pictures during the tournament.
Watson, the 2012 Masters champion, says the situation can be almost unbearable for players.
It’s an odd predicament for golf’s ruling bodies. After all, the sport’s financial lifeblood is large corporations which buy the most ad time and gobble up tournament sponsorships. Those are institutions run by businesspeople who need to be linked to their office by a cell phone. Yet most governing bodies disdain anyone having cell phones on the course during tournament play.
Irony of all ironies, the USGA offers its book of rules as an app for Android devices or iPhones _ an app that can’t be used during the U.S. Open by fans because the USGA prohibits phones on the course during the tournament.
On the other hand, most public events are a feeding frenzy for those with cameras on their cell phones. Been to a concert lately? Odds are, arrayed in front of you were hundreds of tiny screens all taking video or photos as the music plays.
It’s just like that on the PGA Tour, except the players hate loud or sudden noises while plying their trade. They can mentally blot out the sounds of blimps overhead, birds chirping and roars elsewhere on the course but they jump 3 feet when a phone clicks somewhere on the other side of the ropes.
In another fitting irony, after Mickelson was angered by all of the cell phone distractions during his first-round 79 a year ago at the Memorial, what did he do? He whipped out his own phone on the sixth fairway and texted a message to PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem about all the distractions on the course provided by … well, cell phones like the one he had in his hand.
Even Woods has used his cell phone _ during a pro-am, not a tournament _ to call one of his representatives to get his 3 wood regripped at Quail Hollow in 2009.
So it’s not just parents checking on the babysitter who think that it’s handy to have a cell phone at all times.
Muirfield Village hosts the Presidents Cup in October, a team competition pitting the U.S. vs. an International side. Even such major events are immune from cell phone distractions.
At the 2009 Presidents Cup in San Francisco, a marshal’s cell phone rang twice while the International team’s Geoff Ogilvy was standing over a putt.
Maybe the Tour needs to provide more education about cell phones, informing fans that they want them to stay connected in this digital age. But they also cannot permit the golfers to be bothered.
Maybe there should be a spokesman.
A recommendation: Former PGA Championship winner Rich Beem.
Before he won a major or made a living at golf, he used to sell car-stereo equipment and cell phones.
AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson and AP Sports Writer R.B. Fallstrom in St. Louis contributed to this story.