COMMENTARY: All is quiet on golf and tennis fronts - for some strange reasons

By Berl Falbaum

Now, I have written about some very controversial issues, i.e. Trump, Ukraine, Israel-Hamas, the environment and many other topics.

Today, I am taking on an issue I was warned not to tackle. My family and friends repeatedly advised me to leave it alone. But being a masochist, I can no longer resist; it has bothered me for years.

So here goes: Why do spectators at golf and tennis matches have to be silent? (There, I did it and I think I hear the outcry already). Let’s begin by applying the “quiet” rule to some other sports.

Scene 1: A Detroit Tiger batter has finished scratching and adjusting his gloves/helmet when an announcement on the public address system commands fans to “be quiet please.”

Some 45,000 fans comply.

Scene 2: A Detroit Piston is at the free throw line. A similar announcement orders fans to take their seats, not move a muscle, while the basketball player shoots.

Scene 3: The Detroit Lions quarterback, ready to take the hike, is bothered by a fan slurping a beer in the upper deck. He stops, points to the stands and the announcer, whose voice reflects annoyance, chastises the offending fan to drink quietly.

None of the above is possible, you say? Yup, you’re right; very true. So…

Why is golf and tennis different? What is it about these games that require fans to not only hold their breath, but also are ousted from stadiums and golf courses if they can’t control the sniffles?

The golfing great Tiger Woods became angry when he heard camera shutters click, and at a Wimbledon classic, one player complained that she was bothered by “groans” after she missed a shot. She said a sports psychotherapist was treating her for this mental/psychological dilemma. (I did not make that up; I could never have thought of that.)

In the in-depth interviews I conducted, I was told, “You just don’t understand.” Which, of course, is true. They explained: it’s a matter of concentration.

Apparently, it takes more concentration to hit a golf ball sitting motionless on a tee, waiting to be whacked than hit a curving, twisting 95-mile an hour pitch from just 60.5 feet away.
A basketball player doesn’t need to concentrate shooting a free throw while fans engage in hilarious antics to force him to miss. Some of the signs and photos can’t be reported in a family newspaper. When the player does miss, given the raciness of the photos, a coach ought to be a little forgiving.

Question: Who needs more time to think: A golfer contemplating a 12-inch putt or a quarterback looking at six hulking, 300-pound salivating linemen who are planning to claw their way through the defensive line to crush every bone in his body.

The internet provides many reasons (all are really about concentration), one arguing that a tennis player needs to hear the ball hit the opponent’s racket. Apparently, that sound provides vital info for the return.

If sound — any sound — is so disruptive, then the first people who should be ushered out are players who grunt, among them the great Serena Williams. Those grunts are annoying, I confess, to me watching on TV. Maybe that’s her secret to winning.

We might also observe golfers don’t grunt even when they hit a drive for some 300 yards. But they do stand like statues on the green when opponents putt. Professional courtesy.

Concentration? What about doing backward somersaults on a beam just four inches wide and 4.1 feet off the ground? You think that might need a little concentration?

No, dear tennis players and golfers, concentration doesn’t do it. Citing that as the reason is nothing but sports elitism.

Then, what is the reason? Answer: Tradition. These were rich people’s sports played at country clubs that required respectable behavior and appropriate manners. People at these clubs didn’t shout, let alone cuss, but behaved “properly.” One professional tennis player, discussing this issue on the web, called his colleagues “dilettantes”.

Moreover, tennis was played before royalty and that required acceptable protocol. It still is at Wimbledon where members of the royalty frequently attend matches. No one ever witnessed a king, queen, prince or princess, chugging a beer, and shouting, “Helluva shot, old chum.”

Admittedly, I never met the late Queen Elizabeth but from what I have read about her, I think she would have enjoyed a more raucous scene. I know Prince Harry would.

(If it’s not too much to take on at the same time, we might also change the scoring system in tennis. What the hell is the point of 15, 30, 40 love? The numbers don’t make sense and what is meant by “love?” Yes, I read all the reasons for the scoring, but for the “love” of me, none makes any sense. How about 1, 2, 3 and when the player reaches 4, he/she wins the game.)

We have witnessed several revolutions in the last half-century. We have made progress in civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and in other sectors of society.

It’s time to fight for “fan rights” at tennis matches and on golf courses. With spring upon us, let’s make 2024 the year we begin to cheer and boo at these sporting events. I will start it if you promise to post bail.

We might just discover it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference — and that it is a lot more fun.

And the player who is upset by groans will save a lot of money on therapy.
Berl Falbaum is a veteran journalist and author of 12 books.