2002: Boisterous Western benefits Kelly
Winner Jerry Kelly was feeling the love from screaming fans at the Advil Western Open. Runner-up Davis Love III was feeling annoyed by their yelling. Two perspectives, one crowd and one conclusion: The PGA Tour is experiencing a hangover from last month’s U.S. Open at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, N.Y., on Long Island, where boisterous galleries deviated from usual golf decorum in favor of Yankee Stadium behavior.
True Bethpage snapshot: Burly man with baritone voice, holding a beer shoulder high, sticking out his chest and standing erect behind the fifth tee, yells without moving anything but his lips as David Toms pipes a drive down the middle in the U.S. Open first round: “David Toms! David Toms! Yeah, baby! (Effing) straight!” Laughter met this stunning Caddyshack-like scene. Then after David Duval followed with a long, accurate tee ball, the man’s holler was, “Double D! Double D! That’s what I’m talkin’ about!”
Point is, golf galleries are changing in this era of Tiger Woods. They are louder, they are younger and their etiquette often isn’t Augusta National polite. That has forced players to choose a skin preference: Thick or thin.
Which brings us to the two protagonists of the 2002 Western. Kelly became the Tour’s fourth multiple winner when he closed with 65 for 19-under-par 269 and went from three strokes behind to two ahead. Love finished with 66 for the 23rd runner-up finish of his career (against 14 victories), including the second consecutive year here at Cog Hill’s Dubsdread Course.
Yet their outlook was defined by more than a two-shot differential. Kelly gave out nearly 50 tickets to family and friends and said he felt an emotional boost from supporters here, a 3-hour drive from his Madison, Wis., home. Love, meanwhile, was bothered by loud comments on 16 and 17 Sunday and expressed dislike for the shifting face of galleries. Similar disparate views were expressed of Bethpage fans by Open challengers Phil Mickelson (love) and Sergio Garcia (loathe).
Kelly: “There’s no better feeling than being cheered for and yelled at. I seem to listen to everybody and let them bring me up. . . . Seeing the standing ovation at 18, I got the chills something fierce.”
Love: “Fans were yelling and screaming all day – while you’re putting, before and after shots. They tell you how putts break. You’re not supposed to yell at players and give advice. It’s annoying. We have to crack down on it. Fans are overstepping their bounds. The U.S. Open was ridiculous, and now they’re copying that.”
Love said he didn’t let the crowds affect his play, but he did stare down spectators at 16 and 17 in the final round. The first came when someone yelled, “Rip it, Davis!” as he addressed his tee shot on 16. His concentration was broken after he had birdied six of the previous nine holes. Then, after he played his second shot out of the left trees en route to bogey on 17, someone screamed, and Love turned and stepped toward the person in disgust. Love said he didn’t know what was hollered, but according to ABC, the person made a “choke” reference.
“I don’t like going to the ropes and yelling at people,” Love said, “but it seems like I do it every week now.”
While Love called for a crackdown, Kelly seemed resigned to the trend. The former hockey player talked of players needing to be mentally tough in a sport where they aren’t body-checked.
“If you hit a shot that releases instead of spins, someone might say, ‘Get rid of those Pinnacles,’ ” Kelly said. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s the way golf is changing. Everybody is playing the game, not just the elitist country clubbers who know how to act. Every other sport gets heckled but golf, but unfortunately the heckling is coming. I’m sorry, 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.”
This Western became different two days before it began when world No. 1 Tiger Woods withdrew because of flu-like symptoms. The weaker-than-usual Western field was without the first five in the World Ranking and 17 of the top 30, but the focus was on Woods’ absence. Suffice to say players liked it more than spectators.
“It makes it easier for everyone else,” Stuart Appleby, who tied for fifth, said the day Woods pulled out. “He’s been winning a lot of weeks out here. We’re all selfish enough to think that’s a break.”
Kelly took advantage and bagged $720,000, the same amount he received for his first Tour victory at the Sony Open in January. The confidence he gained in Hawaii carried over here. “I didn’t consider myself much of a threat until I got it done on Sunday there,” said Kelly, now third in Tour earnings.
Kelly had missed two consecutive cuts, but two subsequent happenings turned him around. He said he experienced a “life-altering experience” at a June 24 fund-raiser for Tour player Jeff Julian, a victim of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Witnessing Julian’s strength “made me get down to business,” Kelly said.
Then brother-in-law Jim Schuman fixed Kelly’s swing the week before the Western. Kelly had been taking the club up fast with his arms instead of turning his shoulders.
“I had no clue,” he said. “He got me turning the buttons on my chest back with the club in front of me. It’s the same feeling I had going to Hawaii. Believe me, I’ll remember it this time.”
His victory was keyed by a par save at 13 sandwiched by birdies at 11-12 and 14-15. He hooked into a bunker at 13, pitched out and hit a 157-yard 8-iron to 3 feet. “That was my tournament,” he said. Among those witnessing the charge was his mother, Lee, a 7-handicap. The emotional Kelly credits her for his battling nature.
“I just love to compete, but she’s more competitive than I am on the golf course,” the Western winner said. “I joke with people that I’m lucky she didn’t eat me when I was younger, the way she plays golf.”