The biggest distraction Jack Nicklaus ever faced on the golf course was from a helicopter.
It’s an old story, but Nicklaus chuckled while recalling the time he lost his concentration when a chopper flew over Cherry Hills in the 1960 US Open and he three-putted for bogey. Two years later, Nicklaus had gone three rounds without a three-putt in the 1962 US Open at Oakmont when a helicopter approached as he played the first hole of the final round.
”I reverted and thought right back about it,” Nicklaus said over the weekend. ”It was the only three-putt I had in the whole tournament.”
The issue at Memorial was cellphones, which contributed to Phil Mickelson withdrawing after an opening round of 79. Mickelson, Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler mentioned the vast number of fans taking pictures with their phones, to the point players had to back off their shots.
Mickelson is not afraid to send a message to the tour — in this case, literally.
According to four people with direct knowledge, Mickelson sent a text message to PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem from the sixth fairway at Muirfield Village suggesting that a lack of policing fans with cellphones was getting out of hand.
Mickelson withdrawing for what he called ”mental fatigue” is not a tour violation. Players can withdraw for any reason after completing a round. Using a phone to send the commissioner a text is another matter, though the tour doesn’t disclose any disciplinary actions.
If nothing else, one official said it got the tour’s attention.
Mickelson doesn’t mind taking criticism, even for pulling out of Nicklaus’ tournament. He skipped the Tour Championship during a debate over the length of the PGA Tour season and decided not to play a FedEx Cup playoff event in the inaugural year to protest the inequity of the pro-am policy. Those close to the tournament host said Nicklaus wasn’t bothered by Mickelson’s decision to leave and never brought it up.
Last year, the tour began allowing fans to bring phones to the tournament so long as photos weren’t taken during competition. There are designated areas to make calls. That’s not going to stop fans from taking pictures, and most annoying are the people who don’t switch the phones to silent.
Banning the policy isn’t an option. The tour is moving forward in the digital age with programs to enhance the gallery’s experience. Plus, the increase in attendance has been tangible this year. Nowadays, if fans can’t bring their phones, they’re more likely not to come at all.
The solution is to add security or volunteers to the two or three marquee pairings, and to take away phones from fans caught taking pictures (giving them a claim check to retrieve the phone at the end of the day). That’s what happened on Friday, and there were no big incidents the rest of the way.