Let me say right off that there is no excuse for the boorish behavior directed at David Duval two weeks ago at the Phoenix Open. There is a thin line between gallery enthusiasm—"a frat party atmosphere," as CBS's Gary McCord described it—and a drunken orgy. The crowd at Scottsdale, especially at the 16th and 17th holes, stepped (or staggered) well over that line.
For some spectators heckling is a sport within a sport, an attempt to become part of the action or perhaps bring an athlete down to their level. In stadium sports such harassment is easy to ignore. Often it is not even heard above the roar of the crowd. At golf and tennis tournaments, where silence is the norm during play, taunts are more intrusive.
But Duval was not entirely blameless for what happened at the Phoenix Open. When he reacted to gibes at the TPC of Scottsdale, he broke a cardinal rule. To wit: If you want to put an end to such nonsense, ignore the source. Perhaps no golfer took more abuse than Jack Nicklaus when, in the early '60s, he was in the process of dislodging Arnold Palmer from his throne. Someone was always yelling "go in the trap" when he drove and "miss it" when he putted. Nicklaus, though only in his early 20s, was mature enough to understand that no response is the best response.
In case you missed it, Duval's troubles in Phoenix began during the second round, while he was on the tee of the 17th hole, a short par-4 that can be reached with a perfect drive. He was waiting for the group in front of him to clear the green when a woman in the gallery announced that she missed his goatee. Duval smiled and rubbed his chin. That emboldened a man on the other side of the tee to shout, "Do you like my goatee."
"Yeah," the woman yelled back. "What bar would you like to meet me at tonight?"
Now the crowd got into it. Duval had been stretching his back muscles, using an iron. "Are you going to lay up?" a man asked.
"No, I'm just warming up," Duval answered, a slight mistake. "Have another beer." Major mistake. Someone else, still assuming Duval was going to lay up, shouted, "Next time, wear a skirt."
On the back nine on Saturday the heckling increased, with folks applauding Duval's mistakes and cheering for more. Unstrung, Duval finally responded with a subtle but clearly visible extension of his middle finger. He had been in contention after a front-nine 32, but on the back he lost his composure, shot 41 and dropped from sight. Fuming, he signed his scorecard with barely a glance and cleared out his locker, an indication that he might not show up the next day. He did, but only a short time before he was scheduled to tee off. He shot a commendable 69, finishing 30th and then departed. Phoenix may not see him again until it snows hard enough to go snowboarding.
As a youth Duval was reportedly arrogant, brash and rude, but he is an intelligent young man with a sweet golf game, and his greatest moments are still ahead. That's why I was disappointed by how he handled himself in Scottsdale. I'm not talking about his getting into a brouhaha with the rowdies. What bothers me are a couple other things.
His digital response, for one. That was immature, not worthy of him or the game he represents. Second, his cursory glance at his scorecard and his decision to clean out his locker. He knows that when you enter a tournament, you sign on for the duration, and unless you are injured or you have a personal emergency, you play as hard as you can. Had there been a mistake on the scorecard and Duval had been disqualified for signing it, that would have been bush. Threatening not to return for Sunday's round was bush. The vast majority of the gallery had paid to watch great golf and perhaps to see Duval shoot, if not another 59, something memorable.