Golfer Phil Mickelson withdrew from The Memorial Tournament this weekend, and apparently cell phones –or people snapping pictures with them — were to blame. An ESPN article on Mickelson’s withdrawal notes that the pro golfer withdrew from the tournament citing “mental fatigue.” However his mental fatigue may have been cell phone induced.
According to four people with direct knowledge, Mickelson sent a text message to PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem from the sixth fairway at Muirfield Village suggesting that a lack of policing fans with cellphones was getting out of hand…. [Bubba] Watson and [Rickie] Fowler, his playing partners, laid the blame for Mickelson’s withdrawal Thursday on fans who continually distracted Mickelson by snapping photos with cellphone cameras.
The PGA began allowing cell phones on the course last year provided fans kept them on silent, used them in specific areas, and didn’t take videos or photographs during play, but unsurprisingly fans weren’t content to keep them in their pockets while golfers were prepping for their putts and drives. The article quotes fellow tour players as saying that the “clicks and snaps” of fans taking pictures “affected” Mickelson, causing him to lose focus. As a former golfer, I can say that an errant twig snap as you are completing your stroke can turn a sure thing into a slice, so the click of an iPhone (s aapl) or Android handset (s goog) could certainly cause a distraction.
So Mickelson bowed out and apparently sent a text to the PGA commissioner in frustration while on the course (ESPN doesn’t note the irony). The bigger story is one of cell phones, etiquette and major sporting events — something the Summer Olympics will soon bring to the fore. Cell phones — the noise, the flash photography — can create a distraction for athletes in certain sports. That distraction might result in a poor drive for a golfer or a broken ankle for a gymnast.
At the same time, asking people to give up their phone for an entire day or event isn’t going to fly in today’s digital age. People still feel entitled to capture their memories of being at a PGA tournament, Olympic event or any other big moment in their lives using their handset. So how do event organizers, PGA commissioners and even digital natives reconcile the athlete’s need for quiet (or no distracting flashes) with the audiences’ newfound need to capture and share the moment?
Image by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images courtesy of the PGA.