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Masters offers reprieve from increasingly vocal golf crowds

Welcome to Augusta National, a Baba Booey-free zone.

For one week, the Masters brings a measure of civility back to a game that has grown more obnoxious outside the ropes in recent years.

For these four days in April, the odds of TV mics picking up the calls of the over-served – “Baba Booey,” “get in the hole,” “mashed potatoes” and worse – are virtually nil because, to put it simply, the green jackets who run the club do not allow it.

It is, in the eyes of many pro players, a welcome reprieve from what has become an increasingly uncivilized game – filled with more volume, more raucous behavior, more people there to get heard on TV than to watch golf. In only a few events this year, high-profile players Sergio Garcia, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas have dealt with out-of-line comments. Garcia and Thomas even ended up getting hecklers ejected.

“Everybody seems to want to say something,” Steve Stricker said. “The fans all want to voice their opinion, and they feel like they paid to get in so they’re going to yell a few things out there at you.

“We have to think about it and worry about it a little bit, but we’re not over that line yet. It’s on the verge. It seems like we’re at a tipping point.”

The Masters is different. This is the course where a fan – make that patron – can place a lawn chair to reserve a spot near the 18th green, or any green, leave for four hours, then come back and see all his or her belongings there, undisturbed.

Running across the hallowed grounds is verboten.

And when the PGA Tour finally relaxed its rules regarding cellphones, Augusta National did not. The home of the season’s first major meticulously tracks its tickets – and does not hesitate to pull them from people who do not follow the rules.

“It’s quite simple: At Augusta, people know if you shout the wrong thing, you’re out of there within 10 seconds,” Garcia said.

There’s a lot more leniency at regular PGA Tour events. Shouts, screams and some irreverence are a growing trend.

“It’s a good problem to have,” commissioner Jay Monahan said. “You have more people, young people, coming to our events than we’ve ever seen. Some of these people are new, and we’re trying to bring new people into our sport. … This issue is going to come when you have outdoor events with the number of people we have.

“We’ve got a significant number of people and resources to make sure the right behavior is happening on the golf course. We’ve had some high-profile incidents the last few weeks. We’re monitoring it and we’ll get it right. I think a lot of that behavior will be self-policing.”

The mute button has been difficult to find, especially in an era when people often share every thought via social media.

There might be other factors, too.

McIlroy suggested limiting alcohol sales at events after a spectator kept yelling his wife’s name during the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando a few weeks ago.

“I was going to go over and have a chat with him,” McIlroy said. “I think it’s gotten a little much, to be honest. … They need to do something, because every week it seems like guys are complaining about it more and more.”

No longer are there only quaint groups watching golf in utter silence and then responding with restrained applause. Decency and decorum are, for the most part, going the way of wooden drivers.

Rowdy crowds have become the norm, with many fans starting to treat the game like any other sporting event. They jeer unpopular golfers. They cheer balls hit into the water. They fear nothing. It’s Phoenix Open fervor everywhere. It’s Ryder Cup passion at every stop. It’s courtside cackles and sideline taunts instead of greenside graciousness.

“It’s great for the tournament. It’s great for us. But golf is different than a football game, and there’s etiquette involved and you don’t want people to be put off from bringing their kids when people are shouting stuff out,” McIlroy said.

Thomas had a fan ejected for yelling what he called “unacceptable things” at the Genesis Open in Los Angeles in February. The following week at the Honda Classic, he had another person removed for saying, “Get in the bunker.”

“I guess it’s a part of it now, unfortunately,” Thomas said. “I wish it wasn’t. I wish people didn’t think it was so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots and play.”

At the Dell Technologies Match Play last week, Garcia pointed out a guy who “was shouting not very nice things at me.” Security removed him.

“The crowds in our game have gotten bigger, so obviously it’s not just golf crowds that you get now,” the defending Masters champion said. “And sometimes, unfortunately, you get one or two guys that are probably having too much fun and a little bit too much liquid and unfortunately it happens. That’s the way it is.”

Tiger Woods’ return from a fourth back surgery has boosted golf galleries, but recent fan misbehavior can’t be blamed solely on the “Tiger Effect.”

Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter – and Howard Stern’s satellite radio show, where the host gleefully shares clips of the “Baba Booey” shout-outs – are partially responsible for tempting fans with a chance at 15 seconds of fame.

Golfers might be the ones who have to adjust, at least at most events.

“Guys on the tour are bit too sensitive right now,” Adam Scott said. “We might need to just find a way to block it out because it’s only going to get worse. We’ve come from playing in silence to something new. It’s how it’s going to evolve. I think it’s generally a good thing. I don’t think we should be turning people away, but we should be pointing them in the right spot.

“It’s a delicate balance because you want some atmosphere out there. This is sport. I think we’re just seeing the evolution of the game. It’s gone from a gentleman’s game, let’s say, to – on purpose – the tour is taking it more mainstream and this is what we’re going to get: more sports crowds.”

And more “Baba Booey” and “mashed potatoes” shouts.

Just not this week. Not at the Masters.