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Hands off! Fan gets a little too close to Phil Mickelson

Jay Busbee
Devil Ball Golf

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JOHNS CREEK, Ga. - Here's a story you'll see repeated often over the coming years, as the changing makeup of golf galleries collides head-on with the standards of decorum expected at such a tournament: somebody slapped Phil Mickelson on the back on Saturday, and he apparently wasn't very happy about it.

The story, brought to you by Alex Miceli of Golfweek, runs like this: Mickelson had a shot out of the rough on Saturday at the eighth hole, and just after he hit, a fan, apparently a teenager, ran up and slapped him on the back, shouting go-get-'em-Phil slogans.

Miceli talked with fans who said "the marshals are more interested in following what's going on during play than watching the crowd and controlling their actions." That's a matter of opinion, certainly; we've seen plenty of marshals taking their jobs seriously. (Very seriously.) Mickelson, for his part, offered no illumination on the matter, as he left the course without speaking to the media.

But part of the problem can be observed in that picture above. While cell phones are allowed on the course, you can't use them to take either pictures or calls, and yet there are two right there. Signs at every possible entrance to the course tell you to turn off your mobile phone, and yet you can still hear a telltale chirp once every 20 minutes or so. You simply can't control tens of thousands of fans with almost complete freedom of movement at any moment.

Now, we're on record here as thinking that many of golf's caste-system mentalities and arcane rulings have no place other than to justify their own existence, but this is a case where we can see the point of the hands-off policy.  If you've never been at a professional golf tournament, do this: reach out right now and touch your monitor screen. That's how far away a pro golfer can be from you if his ball happens to roll into the rough near you. There's the matter of respect, yes, but also the matter of balance; if a golfer is getting back-slapped and hair-tousled every time he goes into a gallery like he'd just hit a walkoff homer, his game's going to suffer instantly.

Keep your hands to yourselves, fans. Swipe a few blades of pinestraw from Phil's divot and be happy with that.

Ominously, the PGA of America offered this statement: "It was an unfortunate situation, and we will take measures to make sure a situation like this does not happen again."

So, yeah, if you see jackbooted thugs carrying riot shields and batons, and fluffy clouds of tear gas wafting just outside the ropes at the PGA Championship, now you'll know why.

Mickelson accosted by fan during Round 3 [Golfweek]

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