Zach Johnson and BMW Championship Heckler: Are Fans Going Too Far?

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COMMENTARY | It takes a lot to rile up 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson. An unruly fan did just that Saturday at the BMW Championship.

Johnson had just missed his birdie putt at the par-5 finishing hole at Conway Farms when, from behind him, a fan shouted at him, "Zach, you suck!"

Johnson immediately turned and looked disapprovingly, disgustedly back in the direction of the fan. He walked up to his ball, tapped in for par and then waited for playing partner Nick Watney to clean up his last putt of the day.

Then together, Johnson and Watney walked off the green and in the direction of the fan, pointing him out several times, motioning to security to throw the fan out of the grandstands and, presumably, off the premises. That didn't happen immediately and, perhaps born out of frustration at a lack of action, Johnson and Watney began confronting the fan. Television microphones could not pick up what the players said, but they no doubt chastised the fan for his behavior.

The fan, however, seemed all too proud of himself, pleased that he could get under the skin of one of the best men in golf. He patted his chest with his hand, almost daring Johnson or Watney to do something rash.

This incident makes the likes of "Mashed potatoes!" and "Baba booey!" guys seem downright tolerable. While those guys want to be on TV or emote a few chuckles from the gallery, they don't intend to heckle the players, shouting their evaluation of a player as though it mattered.

The fan, who seemed to be in his late-20s, got what he wanted. He got under Zach Johnson's skin and made not only him but also Nick Watney react. The fan won. He got his money's worth. Hopefully copycats won't surface, opining aloud from afar at every missed putt, duffed chip or pulled drive. It's already bad enough with Johnny Miller calling every putt "easy" and any poor shot a "choke." At least that guy has major-championship trophies to his credit; he's earned the right to tell someone he stinks -- in nicer, golf-proper words.

The problem with the type of fan that yelled at Zach Johnson on Saturday is that he thinks the option to heckle comes with the price of admission. He thinks he paid good money to get on the grounds at Conway Farms, so why can't he say what he wants to whomever he wants?

And, in fairness, the PGA Tour's fan ticketing regulations don't expressly suggest that he can't. So long as a fan doesn't interfere with a player's ability to compete, there's nothing the PGA Tour can do. The fan waited until Johnson had missed to ruin his day, so it's perfectly fine then? Not quite.

There is broad language in its fan policy that the tour could have used to throw this guy out and make him an example: "Any misconduct, illegal activity, intoxication, use of illegal substance, or violation of any rule or instruction of Tournament representatives is prohibited and shall be grounds for forfeiture of your ticket and for your removal from the premises."

Read: "If you do something we don't like, you're gone."

The problem is that these kinds of incidents have been going on for a long time on the PGA Tour, with little action to correct it. Davis Love III complained about rambunctious fans a decade ago. Other stories filled with players lamenting fan behavior have littered newspapers for years.

If tournament officials aren't quick enough with the hook for the kinds of guy that heckled Zach Johnson on Saturday, then the players should feel emboldened by Johnson's response and be willing to do the same thing. Just because golf is a polite, prim and proper sport doesn't mean that golfers always have to behave the same way.

What Johnson did may actually provoke some true action from the PGA Tour on the subject. A year ago, Phil Mickelson phoned PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem while on the course at the Memorial Tournament to complain about the fans' collective brazen disregard of the tour's fan cell-phone policy. What happened? A day later, with a full enforcement efforts, hundreds of phones were confiscated. Maybe more bozos will be ejected on Sunday near Chicago.

After all, the pro golfers are the ones at work for the fans' collective enjoyment. And they don't show up to your job to heckle you. Though maybe they should start.

Ryan Ballengee is a Washington, D.C.-based golf writer. His work has appeared on multiple digital outlets, including NBC Sports and Golf Channel. Follow him on Twitter @RyanBallengee and on Google+.

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