ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Fans at this year’s Open Championship at St. Andrews will not be removed from the Old Course if they heckle Tiger Woods over his extramarital affairs, Royal & Ancient chief executive Peter Dawson said.
The R&A head anticipates no extra security measures to handle Woods’ first return to British soil following his fall from grace.
“As long as it’s not intrusive to the game or the championship, then people can say what they like,” Dawson said after a news conference Tuesday. “We’re not a police state here. But if they (the galleries) start putting players off, then we’ll have something to say about that.”
Woods has not yet entered the Open, but organizers expect him to compete. He would be the first player to win the title three times at St. Andrews.
“Tiger Woods has not yet entered, but in a normal year he would not have done that anyway, so I am absolutely certain he will be with us,” Dawson said in a briefing Tuesday.
The deadline to enter is May 27. The British Open is July 15-18.
Members of the British army traditionally have chaperoned Woods during the Open Championship, and Dawson sees no need for that to change this year.
“We’ve always had the army golf society go out with him,” Dawson said. “There have been times in the past when things have gotten overzealous and we’ve had to calm things down. But this is new territory for us, and we will have to take police advice.”
Dawson would not emulate Augusta National chairman Billy Payne and chastise Woods. However, he did express sadness at what has transpired for the world’s No. 1-ranked golfer.
“Because his was the first event back, he (Payne) had a decision to make (on whether to comment on Tiger). I think having made that decision, Billy’s comments were very measured and well crafted. He had the disadvantage of it being Tiger’s first event back, but that’s a challenge, thank goodness, that we don’t have.”
“I did describe myself as Tiger’s biggest fan, and I remain the biggest fan of his golf game. I’m just very sad at what has happened, and I’m sure he is, on reflection, too.
“There have been a lot of people who said they saw this coming, but I’m not one of them. It’s been a great shock to all of us in golf, but time has now passed and let’s hope he can return a stronger person. I’m not going to get into people’s private lives.”
Dawson did comment on Woods’ on-course behavior, which had deteriorated during the past few years. However, he stopped short of echoing Tom Watson’s criticism.
“Clearly it had deteriorated,” Dawson said. “Whether there were a lot of things preying on his mind, I don’t know. No one who has a care for the etiquette of the game could be happy with that, and I’m sure when Tiger looks at the pictures he won’t be happy with it, either.
“It’s very difficult for us to understand how much a player of his level has to psyche himself up to play at the level he does, and maybe that causes a reaction when things are not going so well. I don’t know. I’m just sad it all happened, and I hope the game can move on.”
This year’s Open Championship is expected to attract crowds in excess of 200,000. They will witness only one change to the Old Course, but it’s a significant one. A new tee has been added to the par-4 17th hole, known as the Road Hole. Forty yards have been added to the hole, pushing it from its previous 455 yards to 495.
“What we’ve seen over time is that the challenge to the hole has been diminished. We haven’t seen as many players on the road these days. We’re trying to restore the hole to its previous challenge,” Dawson said.
Tom Watson famously hit 2-iron into the 17th green in 1984, and watched his hopes of a sixth Open Championship disappear as his ball bounded over the green, over the road and up against the stone boundary wall.
Modern equipment means today’s professionals are hitting 7- and 8-irons into the green. They have so much loft in their hands that they can carry the terrifying Road Hole Bunker and land the ball close to the flag. The road is hardly a concern.
That should change this year. The R&A will be hoping the reception Tiger gets from British crowds doesn’t.