Golfers must brace for New York attitude at Bethpage Black

Ian Poulter was on the first tee at Bethpage Black on Wednesday, getting ready for his final practice round before Thursday’s official start of the PGA Championship.

“Hey, Poulter, welcome to my course,” someone yelled from the grandstands behind the tee. Poulter played along, spreading his arms wide and then beating his chest after the Englishman’s opening drive landed in the middle of the fairway.

“Please fix your ball marks and replace your divots,” yelled another as Poulter’s group headed down the fairway. And this was just a practice round.

The wisecracks and unsolicited advice figure to mount over the next four days as New York attitude and local knowledge of the golf course will create an enthusiastic and vocal gathering of opinionated golf fans.

“It’s New York. We’re a little rowdy,” said Hank Heissenbuttel, a salesman from East Patchogue, who was watching Wednesday’s practice round from the first fairway. “You get a few beers in us and look what happens. It’s a New York thing. The way things are set up here with the grandstands and everything, it’s like you’re watching a football game at Giants Stadium.”

If Bethpage Black was the People’s Open when it hosted the U.S. Open in 2002 and 2009 then this is the People’s PGA.

Sun finally broke through on Wednesday, and as the weather warms so will the enthusiasm of a New York golf crowd, looking forward to witnessing the second major of the season. Despite rain earlier in the week, the course is in good condition. There’s nothing to dampen anyone’s excitement for what figures to be a four-day grind.

“I want to see the professional hit shots from the same place I’ve played many times,” said Tom Murray, a retired CPA, from Sayville. Murray estimates he has played the Black “well over” 200 times. “I grew up on this course, playing here when it was in horrible condition,” he said. “To see it now, it’s magnificent.”

The Masters is known for its decorum at Augusta National. There’s no running; no yelling ‘You da man,’ and if you put a chair on the 18th green in the morning, it’ll still be waiting for you in the same spot in the afternoon. There is plenty of cheering and roars, but not the constant quips, wisecracks and unsolicited advice the players will endure beginning Thursday.

Who can forget the Bethpage galleries counting in unison to the waggles and constant re-gripping Sergio Garcia suffered from at the 2002 U.S. Open? Garcia answered with a middle-finger salute. The Spaniard figures to be a crowd favorite this week, having captured the 2017 Masters.

“I like Sergio,” said John Robilotta, a retired underwriter, from Sayville. “He’s got flair and personality like a New Yorker. But he brought a lot of it on himself in ’02.”

Usually, it’s the high-paying members of the posh country clubs around the country who can feel entitled when hosting a major championship. Bethpage Black belongs to the people who feel just as entitled watching the sport’s best players test their now famous course.

Robilotta rode his bike as a kid to play the Black.

“There used to be a five-hour wait on all the other courses,” he said. “But there was no waiting to play the Black. I want to see the pros play the course under the conditions we essentially play in, particularly playing out of the rough. I watched a lot of guys chipping from around the greens and I think that’s going to be one of the keys.”

Mike Cerar and brother-in-law Peter Furman, both of Massapequa Park, will be volunteers working the 12th hole. They’re expecting the crowds to be loud, but not unruly.

“We’re volunteers and so far everybody has been very good, very kind and very respectful,” Cerar said. “Nobody has been yelling or getting in our face, although they said Saturday and Sunday when it gets to grind time, it could be a little more difficult.”

Bethpage Black is ready to make history again.

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