Get Ready for the PGA Cell Phone Backlash — After the Mickelson Memorial Incident

You don’t have to be a website called Mobile Sports Report to see this storm brewing: The reported bad cell-phone behavior that might have led to Phil Mickelson’s withdrawl from the Memorial Thursday is almost certain to cause a cell phone backlash from the PGA Tour.

Though phones didn’t used to be allowed at tour events — and special tourneys like the U.S. Open (run by the USGA) are pretty damn clear that you can’t even think of bringing a phone or a camera phone on the shuttle bus, much less at the course — many other tour stops are now allowing or even encouraging folks to bring their mobile devices. Check out what went on at the recent HP Byron Nelson tourney down in Texas, where some savvy social media folks turned the knobs up to 11, based on a lot of on-course fan-phone interaction.

Great for marketing. But is it good for the game? It’s clear the “talent” doesn’t think so. And they’re not going to stay quiet about it.

Phil himself is probably too nice and too media-savvy to come right out and say bad things about fans — patrons — whatever you call folks at a golf tournament — but new Masters champion Bubba Watson has no such restraining bolt, and told anyone who was listening that people taking pictures with cell phones was the main reason why Phil got Phed up (and shot his way to a 79).

I’m going to quote the entire report by AP’s Rusty Miller (which we found on the PGA’s site) because it highlights the big, bad point: Apparently a LOT of people were using their cell-phone cameras whenever they pleased, golfers backswings be damned:

DUBLIN, Ohio — Everyone has seen a golfer swivel and angrily stare at a news photographer who accidentally clicked a shutter during a swing.

Now imagine what it’s like when there are 10,000 or even 40,000 people on a golf course, all with cell phones that take pictures.

With a huge gallery following the marquee matchup of Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson in Thursday’s first round of the Memorial, the continual distraction of fans with cell phones may have played a role in Mickelson’s withdrawal from the tournament.

“It took Phil out of his game,” Watson said of the continual clicks and snaps of cell phone-camera shutters. “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.”

Mickelson said the reason he was going home in the wake of a frustrating round of 7-over 79 was because he was tired after a recent trip to Italy and France to celebrate wife Amy’s 40th birthday.

“There were a few phones out there,” Fowler said with a laugh. “There were a few times when we had to back off and reset. You could see Phil was a little fatigued and was having trouble blocking it out a bit.”

Mickelson made the turn at 1 over before struggling. Fowler shot a 71 and Watson, who won the Masters last month, had a 75.

Watson blamed a PGA Tour rule which permits fans to have cell phones on the course — if they are on vibrate and are only used in specified areas.

“Yeah, it was bad. But it’s been pretty bad ever since they made that rule,” Watson said. “When they make these marquee pairings, more people are going to follow them and more people want to take pictures. So it makes it very difficult. Ever since they made that rule that cell phones are allowed, it’s just not fun playing.”

Whoa. On one level you might be tempted to say, get a grip, Bubba. You (and Phil) are playing a game for millions of dollars of someone else’s money… and a cell phone noise is making your life miserable? I mean — baseball players have to hit a ball that is coming at them at 100 mph, not one that is lying still on the grass. And they don’t mind the noise. So… why should golfers have or expect complete silence, when they are playing in a very public arena?

Originally this was my argument on this matter — I think if you try to ban phones again you may end up with nobody at golf tournaments other than the Masters… and maybe the U.S. Open. But I think you also have to recognize tradition and what golf is all about. There’s a certain tranquility that most every golfer expects and loves when they are playing themselves. You don’t have to be Bubba to be pissed off at someone talking on a cell phone on a golf course. So in that sense Bubba is more like the rest of us than some pampered star. So I am admittedly confused now over whether I think the players have grown Colin Montgomerie ears, or whether your average fan is a self-important jerk like the people I see texting while they are driving on the freeway. Maybe, some of both.

Our favorite golf blogger/Tweeter Stephanie Wei was following up on this with cascaded Tweets and a good recap post — basically saying that for some reason there were just a lot of jerks on the phones Thursday. She also believed (like several other golf writers) that Mickelson’s withdrawl was done to make a point — that cell phones shouldn’t be allowed near the field of play. Phil is getting some roasting for his move — basically golf purists here, saying that you don’t WD because you are mad and playing poorly — but Wei makes a great point by saying that even at fan fiesta tourneys like the Waste Management in Phoenix the fans are smarter in how they use their phones. Anyone from Ohio who wants to weigh in here, feel free.

What I expect is that by sometime on Friday we will hear from the PGA loud and clear about how anyone seen using a cell phone in other than “designated areas” is going to be ushered off the grounds. And I’m not sure how I feel about that, other than that this is pretty obviously a clash of the magnitude of the topic as to why we started this site: Technology, especially mobile technology, is crashing into sports in ways nobody really imagined. How does it get solved? That’s the story for tomorrow, the day after, and the day after. Stay tuned on this bat channel, because we’ll be covering it. Maybe via our phones or tablets.

(Some of Stephanie’s Tweets embedded below)

Comments

  1. The Worldwide leader, for what it’s worth, doesn’t even touch on the cell phone issue:

    http://espn.go.com/golf/story/_/id/7994663/phil-mickelson-withdraws-memorial-opening-round-79

  2. I think it’s absolute BS. Attended the President’s Cup at Muirfield earlier this week. Most cell phones don’t even make a shutter sound. Look at every other major sporting event: from white outs to black outs to camera flashes to Kobe Bryant being distracted at the free throw line by the opposing teams fans at an away game.
    Deal with it Phil and others. You’re making a shit load of money Man up. If you’re going to even try and ban cell phone cameras at these events the how about banning the SI photographers with the yard stick sizedlenses.

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