Wednesday, June 17, 2009

It's the same at the US Open in Tennis, too...

I don't play golf. OK, I tried to hit balls a couple of times at it, but I profoundly suck at it. On the other hand, I'm not bad at tennis if I practice. So whether it's golf or tennis, my cultural ancestry mind takes a small bit of pride at these people in the Bethpage NY region who are essentially my home-town folks, even though I'm not a golfer at all. Bethpage State Park is within cycling distance of where I grew up.

Seven years after what many golfers still consider the loudest, rowdiest tournament they have played, the second United States Open at Bethpage Black is expected to be a notable sequel.

The party, which is likely to reach full crescendo Sunday afternoon, is just getting started. Phil Mickelson was the people’s choice in 2002, when he had not yet won a major championship and finished as runner-up to Tiger Woods. He figures to be lifted by full-throated good will again, given the recent news that his wife, Amy, has breast cancer. He did not appear Tuesday, but is expected to play an early-morning practice round Wednesday...

Bethpage was the first municipal course to stage a United States Open, and the 2002 event turned golf inside-out. Instead of a private club opening its gates for a few days, temporarily allowing the masses into golf’s cozy kingdom, the commoners own this place. The players are the guests, playing by the fans’ rules of engagement.

“If you take a New Yorker and a few beers and you get him on a golf course that he’s played 100 times, that’s a bad combination,” Stuart Appleby said in 2002.

Some golfers loved it. Some detested it, saying the rules of etiquette were trampled by the masses. Fans, turning the consummate spectator sport into a participatory one, offered opinions of all kinds — about which way the next putt would break, the nattiness of a golfer’s attire or anything else that might draw a laugh.

Sergio García was teased mercilessly for his habit (since broken) of waggling his club a dozen or more times before each swing, and some jokes centered on his relationship (since broken up) with Martina Hingis.

“I love New York,” García said Tuesday, knowing that a sound strategy at Bethpage, beyond hitting the ball long and straight, includes getting fans on your side. “I love the people around here.”

Seven years ago, though, the sense was that the United States Open at Bethpage Black was a turning point in the way golf would be cheered: vociferously, and with a personal edge.

“You’re going to have to have some thick skin to play this game from now on because New York just opened a nice big can of worms,” Jerry Kelly said after winning the Western Open that summer.

Though it should be pointed out, as you might suspect, people from my home area are as easily offensive as offended.

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