I always wanted to be a writer. After college, I started my journalistic career in the sports department of a daily newspaper. I was quickly exposed to the National Football League.
A collection of loudmouthed professional football fans made an immediate and not very favorable impression on me. I saw them boo players and coaches. I saw them cheer when opponents were injured. I saw them take great delight in the misfortune or distress of opposing athletes.
I never thought I would see this in professional golf, the most civilized and courteous of major sports.
Kevin Na did not deserve the verbal abuse he encountered in Sunday’s final round of The Players Championship. He did not deserve to be heckled as he stood over his ball, struggling to start his swing.
He did not deserve all the “C’mon, pull the trigger” comments. He did not deserve the “Na Na, Na Na Na Na, goodbye” chorus on the back nine.
Na was braced for the worst. His battle to initiate his golf swing was well documented. Everybody knew about it.
“I was a target,” he said. “It didn’t surprise me.”
Na vowed to conquer this problem, although he made no prediction about how long it will take.
I say he will quickly overcome his swing demons. I was there in 2002 at Bethpage when Sergio Garcia was mercilessly booed by spectators at the U.S. Open. Garcia’s dilemma was similar to that of Na — he waggled endlessly before beginning his backswing. Yet, a few months after his Bethpage flogging by fans, Garcia was the possessor of a new, speedy routine.
A gang of rude partisans will do that for you. Na doesn’t want to go through this ordeal again, and he will figure out how to patch this bump in his golf road.
But the vicious, insensitive nature of the taunting at The Players should not be allowed to fade from our consciousness without comment.
Winner Matt Kuchar addressed the situation after the championship was over. He praised Na’s efforts to play faster. Indeed, Na could be seen practically running to stay out of Kuchar’s way.
I wish Kuchar had said even more, perhaps scolding the fans and urging more compassion for Na’s stuck-at-address predicament. It was an ugly Sunday scene that eventually turned Na, the third round leader, into a pawn in the final round.
It reminded me of my pro football experiences years ago. No athlete in no sport deserves such lampooning. It was a sad day for golf.