This week’s PGA Tour event is being played at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club on the shores of Lake Manassas in Gainesville, Virginia. It a gorgeous venue that has on three separate occasions in the past hosted The Presidents Cup, a biennial competition similar to the Ryder Cup with the exception being that the US manages to win it most of the time. A group of us attended in the year 2000, during which time I managed to heckle a professional golfer.
After walking the course in the morning and watching the matches tee off on #1 (these were 2 on 2 best ball matches, or “fourball”), we stationed ourselves in back of the 14th green, where we could view the matches on a Jumbotron while having close proximity to the beer tent. We also had a great view of President Clinton’s Marine One helicopter fleet landing nearby, which elicited a decidedly mixed reaction from the spectators.
So we all waited patiently for the first match to come through, which featured Greg Norman and Michael Campbell from the International Team vs. the USA’s Paul Azinger and Hal Sutton. Only it did not get that far; Zinger and Sutton thoroughly defanged the Shark and Campbell, 6 & 5, so the match didn’t make the 14th . I have to admit to taking particular delight in this waxing, as I always found Norman to be a colossal waste of talent (looking at his record alone, he’s a Hall of Fame talent – and possibly the greatest driver of the ball who ever played the game – but his propensity for blowing tournaments and the lame denials that followed totally soured me on him).
Azinger and Sutton made their way to our area; they sat just inside the spectator ropes with their wives as we roundly cheered them. Meanwhile, the second match did reach 14; Mike Weir/Steve Elkington vs Phil Mickelson/Tom Lehman. The players strode down the fairway; accompanying Weir and Elkington was none other than Greg Norman himself. I don’t know if he went out there to inspire his teammates or to get more airtime, but it struck me as unlikely that anyone would be fired up by someone who just get blitzed in his match.
Meanwhile, the crew in back of 18 grew more rowdy as more beer was being consumed. Sutton had decided to sit behind his wife (the soon-to-be-ex Mrs. Sutton #4) and wrapped his legs around her, which drew a lot of hoots from the gallery (soon-to-ex Mrs. Sutton #4 was bewildered by the reaction; I could hear her say to her husband, “Why are they yelling ‘Way to go, Sutton?’”). While this was going on, the players in match #2 hit their approach shots and approached the 14th green.
Norman strutted around to the back of the green, and I guess the alcohol and jocularity of the atmosphere got to me. As he walked by (he was maybe 15 yards away from us), I called out sotto voce, “Geez, Shark, you must be awfully tired after playing 13 holes today!” This drew a pretty good laugh from the crowd; Norman whirled his head just as I ducked.
Somehow I didn’t get thrown out, and my buddies waited to high-five me after Norman moved on. And I tell the story today – I do think it was a pretty inspired line, and I defend it somewhat by saying that Norman wasn’t actually playing at the time (the “Youdaman,” “Gettindahole,” and “Bababooey” yappers are a pox),
Golfers needle each other all the time, at least in informal rounds. A putt that is three feet short and two feet wide will elicit mock shouts of “Nice read!” and “How did that not go in?” from the other players in the group; of course, it’s generally acknowledged that the yeller will be equally accepting of a crack from another player when he messes up.
But I don’t know Greg Norman, and however I view his shortcomings, I suppose I should have kept my comment to myself or at least just whispered it to those around me. But I got swept up in the moment.
So Shark, if you’re reading this, mea cupla. mate. But you have to admit, it was a pretty good line.