DUBLIN, OHIO (AP) - 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.
“The tournament has achieved the balance between giving patrons the ability to use their mobile devices in the appropriate and permitted areas, while giving the players in the field the ability to compete without disturbance, distraction or interruption,” he said.
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.
“It took Phil out of his game,” said Bubba Watson, who joined Mickelson and Rickie Fowler in that rock-star grouping. “Phil’s a great player and a great champion and it just took him out of his game. It’s sad. It’s sad that cell phones can make or break a championship.”
As a result, the Memorial is trying to stave off a repeat.
“That group last year made us realize that we had work to do in improving our mobile-device policy,” said Dan Sullivan, the Memorial’s executive director. “It wasn’t isolated to that group.”
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 scour the crowds looking for possible problems.
At last year’s PGA Championship, marshals would stop someone who was using their phone improperly and put a red check mark on the back of their ticket. 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.