Originally created 06/18/04

Fans offer golfers new experience



SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. - The three extra guys who went with the fifth group off Shinnecock's back nine Thursday turned out to be wholly unnecessary.

So did the handcuffs.

It will probably stay that way, smart money saying the course will be tougher on players than the crowd will be in the U.S. Open's return to New York. And that the walk becomes the hardest part of the work for policemen patrolling the fairways here.

No one seemed to know what to make of the New York fans when the Open was held in the area two years ago.

They cheered as if they were at a hockey game. They chanted players' names and sometimes-dicey catchphrases. And they were not shy about showing displeasure.

There was also no certainty that it would be any different this time, especially wherever Sergio Garcia was going to be.

Garcia was the target for much of the unruliness at Bethpage State Park in 2000, his 32nd waggle over the ball wearing out some fans' patience.

That's usually when they offered suggestions. You know, something like: "Hit the freaking ball already."

"It was fine," Suffolk County Police officer Steve Frankenbach said, who was assigned to Garcia's group along with a New York state trooper and a New York state police officer. "There's usually not going to be a problem, but you never know."

Garcia is far from the site of his past problems, this Open about 40 miles and four social classes away from the 2002 public course.

Eastern and Western Long Island are about as different as Eastern and Western Europe. And the crowds at Shinnecock and Bethpage are mutually representative of those dissimilarities.

It's more than the private vs. public thing. It's a whole attitude.

Farmingdale, L.I., Bethpage's home, is suburban. But it is close enough to the city to attract its hard-shelled element. The Hamptons, meanwhile, are out there, as out of reach from the mainstream as they are distant.

So naturally, the crowd here has not seemed as large, as loud or anywhere near as loutish.

Whatever you thought about the Bethpage fans, they created an atmosphere that was unique for golf and, so far, has been absent here.

That might change after today, when the weekenders, wannabes and Wall Street nouveau riche make it out to the Hamptons. They'll come with their preferences and opinions and maybe their voices. They'll clog the walkways and stretch the beer lines. But it still won't be the same as it was two years ago.

Because it's doubtful they'll be able to bring even a little of the Bethpage edge to this chic corner of golf.