ARDMORE, Pa. – Philadelphia fans once booed and threw snowballs at Santa Claus. So did anybody really think they’d leave Sergio Garcia alone?
Tough town, Philly. Tough place to play your first tournament in the United States after making an unfortunate “fried chicken” racial slur regarding Tiger Woods last month. Tough day for Garcia – in terms of scoring and heckling.
Garcia’s 3-over 73 in the U.S. Open first round at Merion was punctuated by early double and quadruple bogeys after he hit hooks out of bounds on Nos. 14 and 15. And, after a weather delay of 3 hours and 32 minutes, during which spectators had ample time to consume adult beverages, Garcia was subjected to wisecracks yelled about once a hole.
Galleries were mostly supportive of the Spaniard, who has been properly contrite and apologetic since saying at a banquet last month that he would serve adversary Woods fried chicken. After he bogeyed the par-5 fourth, someone yelled, “Keep your head up, Sergio.” After he teed off on No. 5, another loudly said, “Come on, Sergio. I hate Tiger, too.” Hence, a veteran security guard suggested that 90 percent of the comments were supportive.
“It (reception) was good for the most part,” Garcia said.
Key words in that sentence are, "for the most part." The occasional jabs were conspicuous by their volume as they pierced silent air.
To wit: When Garcia faced an 8-foot birdie putt at the first, someone yelled, “Hey, head case, let’s see you blow it 10 feet by.” As his 15-foot birdie putt rolled toward the fifth hole, someone behind the green screamed, “Fried chicken!” He got another “Fried chicken, Sergio” as he walked toward the sixth tee. On the sixth fairway, someone directed a “Let’s go, Tiger” toward him.
When he putted on the seventh, a patron on a deck beside the green yelled, “Winner, winner, chicken dinner.” And on it went. Someone also said, “I ate the bones,” a reference to a KFC commercial. After one of his shots, another went with, “I’ll take a bucket of chicken with that.”
As a police officer in his group said of the gallery after play resumed just after noon, “They’re starting to pipe up now.”
Garcia handled it well. He did not respond or lash back, as he did when New Yorkers taunted him for excessive waggling at the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black. He did at times look lifeless, with slumped shoulders and deflated body language, and usually kept to himself in a threesome with Padraig Harrington and Stewart Cink.
He acted as if he didn’t hear the noise. And afterward you wouldn’t have known barbs bothered him.
“I think there were a couple (heckles) here and there, but I felt the people were very nice for the whole day,” Garcia said. “Almost all of them were behind me and that was nice.”
The more people sounded off, the better he seemed to perform. He played his first eight holes (Nos. 11-18) in 7 over and his final 10 in 4 under.
“For me it was very tough,” he said of the start. “But I tried to battle as much as I could coming in and I was able to shoot a decent score. I was able to make a nice recovery, so that was nice.”
Garcia’s problems began when he slipped on the tee at the 468-yard 14th and hit a pull hook out of bounds with a 3-wood. He completed that double bogey after play resumed, then hooked another 3-wood drive OB at the 411-yard 15th.
“A terrible shot,” he said.
He found the fairway with his next drive but, admittedly “feeling down a bit,” hit a poor iron approach. He then thinned a bunker shot over the green and missed an 8-footer for triple.
“Unfortunately two really bad holes,” he said. “But it’s the way it is. The U.S. Open doesn’t give you much room.”
He turned his round around, though, when he birdied the first and eagled the 556-yard second with a 16-foot putt after a 3-wood approach from 272 yards. He birdied two of his last three holes from close range, at Nos. 8 and 10.
But then he didn’t seem all that excited after the rally from the abyss in the intermittent badgering.
“It was a pretty flat round for most of the day, I guess,” Garcia said.