42: Quiet, Please!

42: Quiet, Please!

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tales of Golf and Sport

Quiet, Please!

She was sitting in the stands at the 15th hole lost in her thoughts. Maybe she was contemplating the previous hole. Or the beautiful Georgia day. Or perhaps she was praying that this would be the year Augusta National relented and allowed her husband to walk away with a green jacket instead of a broken heart.

Then Laura Norman heard those voices. Two men seated near her at the Masters were arguing... about her husband’s hair. Was Greg Norman a real blond or wasn’t he? It couldn’t be real, could it? It was too perfect. Too white blond. Too much a part of the larger-than-life image of the Great White Shark.

“One of them said Greg must have stayed up all night bleaching it,” Laura recalls, laughing. “They were like two catty women, the way they were going on. It was as if they were jealous of him.”

One more crack and Laura had had enough. “It’s real,” she said.

They weren’t buying it. “Yeah, right,” said one of them. “How do you know?”

She smiled. “I’m his hairdresser.”

Two jaws dropped. “You are? Well... uh... omigod... uh... okay.”

Did that stop the thoughtless chatter?

What do you think? Want to bet those guys were at it again a few groups later?

The men and women who follow their spouses on the PGA and LPGA tours know the drill. Walking along outside the ropes with the gallery, they have an opportunity most of us don’t have: They get to watch their spouses work. That has its benefits and its drawbacks. On the one hand, the husbands and wives don’t have to wait until a spouse comes home and tells them about their day to know if a cranky or ebullient evening lies ahead.

On the other hand, they have to put up with the other people who are watching their spouses at work. People who let everyone know what they think they know. People who voice opinions without a worry about who might be listening. People who offer unsolicited advice to wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, even players—whether they want it or not. No wonder tour spouses generally tuck their “family” badges out of sight and walk alone.

Imagine hearing someone you don’t know talk about your personal life, or listening to someone bad-mouth your wife for being last in the field or simply for not being on someone’s short list of favorite players. Observing “true fans” is no better, if they are giggling about how cute your husband is or how he—and you—are headed for divorce court. Then there are the “experts” who love to disclose juicy details about the wild party you never threw, or your taste in furniture.

“Today, my daughter told me to hurry up and get over here,” Sally Irwin says after walking a round watching her husband, Hale. “They were talking about our house in Arizona. About how big it was, what it looked like. They didn’t have anything right.”

They seldom do. Just ask Steve Stricker’s wife, Nicki. In 1998, she found herself standing behind the 17th green at The Players Championship, five months pregnant and sandwiched between two guys out to impress their wives or girlfriends and each other.

“Steve walked up to the green and one of these fellows started telling the other, ‘Yeah, his wife used to caddie for him, but they got in a big fight and now they’re divorced,’” Nicki chuckles. “I stood there and thought about whether to say something, but I didn’t. They were just trying to sound good for the women.

“When things like that happen, you have to evaluate the situation. Do you want to embarrass them? Or do you just walk away? I just walked away.”

Others haven’t. Ben Crenshaw’s first wife, Polly, routinely joined in the fun. When someone would tell a story about Ben, she would lean in, without a hint of revealing her identity, and say, “Really? Tell me more.”

Norman’s mother once tired of hearing a fan belittle her son and hit the man with her umbrella. Another time, Irene Burns had had enough of one fan’s disparaging remarks about her husband, George, so she wound up and hit him with her stick seat. Sue Stadler, whose husband, Craig, has always been a fan favorite and target, was subtler.

“It was at the Kemper Open, and Craig was playing on Sunday,” Sue recounts. “These guys had been saying things all day and one of them yelled, ‘C’mon Stadler, choke.’ He was about four feet behind me when he said it.

“Later, we were all walking along, and I stopped and put my stick seat out. The guy ran right into it. It hit him right in the stomach.” Oops. Pardon me.

Another time, Sue was less subtle. Craig was playing with Raymond Floyd when someone called him an SOB. “I held my temper in check and said, ‘Excuse me sir, my husband is not an SOB,’” recalls Sue. “The entire gallery laughed at him.”

It’s even better when the player himself (or herself) responds. During the final round of the 1994 Masters, Jeff Maggert’s first wife, Kelli, and his mother, Vicki Benzel, were at the 13th green waiting for him to hit his approach. Jeff was last and playing with a marker, so a few fans started in, calling him “Maggot” and other rude names. Kelli and Benzel were giving the fans a dressing down for insulting their husband and son when a ball hit the green and rolled into the hole for a double-eagle 2.

“I was just praying it wasn’t the marker,” Kelli says. It wasn’t. Maggert had hit a 3-iron 222 yards for the third double eagle in Masters history, the first since 1967 and the first at the 13th. Everyone, including the Maggot men, cheered.

Even the most polite inquiry can be, well, annoying—and a little amusing. Consider the day Dale Eggeling’s husband, Mike, was standing beside the 17th green at an event in East Lansing, Michigan. Dale was working on a career-low 63 and had just hit her approach shot eight feet from the flagstick. Just then, a reporter walked up and asked, “Does anyone know which one is Dale Eggeling?”

When Mike pointed her out, the reporter asked if he was sure. Mike said, that he was Dale’s husband.

“Then with all sincerity, the guy—a reporter right?—says, ‘Do you know she’s leading the tournament?’” Mike recalls. “I was surprised a reporter asked that. I think I just said something like, ‘Yeah, she is doing well.’” She won.

Some incidents aren’t the least bit amusing. One day when he was in elementary school, Craig Stadler’s son Kevin overheard someone in the gallery call his father a jerk. Tears came streaming down Kevin’s face as he asked his mother why anyone would say that.

“It broke his heart. It’s hardest on the kids,” Sue says. “I told Kevin the man didn’t know Daddy and that just meant that [the man] was the jerk.”

She also taught Kevin and his brother never to root against anyone. Ever.

One scenario is so oft repeated that it’s almost like an initiation rite: A husband or wife is walking along early in their spouse’s careers when someone comes up and asks who is playing in the group, When the spouse rattles off the names, the fan responds, “Oh, nobody.” If they are prepared, the spouse will turn and say oh-so-politely, “Hey, I’m Mrs. Nobody. And I don’t appreciate that.” If they aren’t prepared....

“You have to grow thick skin,” says Allison Frazar, whose husband, Harrison, turned pro in 1996. “People get excited about this or that, and they mean well. But sometimes I look at what they’re criticizing, and see it as a problem I have to go home and help fix.”

Which brings up another major hazard of watching someone in your family work: You tend to want to help. Melissa Lehman remembers one particularly tough week when every well-meaning family member turned into a critic or a teacher. They were all staying together, which made it especially hard on Tom.

Finally, Melissa exploded. “I said, ‘From now on, Tom is the only person allowed to be elated or upset about any golf shot, understand?’” she said. And the second Tom walked in the door that night, she announced, “C’mon, we’re leaving.” And they did.

A fair number of stories, though, are just plain silly. Amy Mickelson overheard two elderly men who claimed that her husband, Phil, had broken both his legs in a skiing accident. “They both had to be amputated,” the men went on. “And look how well he’s walking.”

Then there was the man who was seriously explaining why Dallas resident Frazar wore shirts with Byron Nelson’s name on them. “You know, that’s Byron Nelson’s grandson,” he said. “That’s why he has Byron Nelson’s name over his heart. Byron is his No. 1 fan.” Of course, they’re no relation. Frazar wears the shirts because he has a deal with E. McGrath, which makes the line.

Hal Sutton’s wife, Ashley, overheard another man telling his companions that Hal had gone to school with his daughter at Arizona State University in the early 1970s. “I laughed at them,” she said.

“If he did, he must have been sixteen.” Hal went to Centenary College.

Trying to stay inconspicuous is often the best tack to take. Dottie Pepper’s husband, Ralph Scarinzi, tries to lay so low that he usually stays about half a hole ahead of Pepper’s group and doesn’t even look at gallery members who approach him.

Melissa Lehman’s favorite story may be one about her. One day, someone came up to her husband’s caddie, Andy Martinez, and laid into Tom.

“The man said, ‘I thought Tom Lehman was a nice Christian man,’” Melissa says, recounting the tale. ‘If he is, then why was he clutching some babe behind the fitness trailer this afternoon? She was dark-haired and on a bike. And she was hot.’”

Yes, and she was Tom’s wife.

Pardon me.

~Melanie Hauser
Chicken Soup for the Golfer’s Soul, The 2nd Round

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