SOUTHPORT, England -- You can always tell who's playing well at a British Open--the same guys who refer to the huddled semi-masses as golf's best galleries. "The roars are different over here," says first-round leader Rocco Mediate. "They're deeper. I don't know how to explain it to you. Maybe it's the wind, maybe it's the stands. Who knows, but it's cool."
Or maybe it's one of those overcooked fallacies that doubles as a positive stereotype, as opposed to the perception that Americans are rude, inattentive and allergic to any form of cultural sophistication. The roars here might be deeper because far fewer women are in attendance than, say, at the Players, where a hillside full of lightly dressed females at the island-green 17th certainly factors into my definition of golf's premier spectator gatherings.
It's a very different vibe at the Masters, where the superb atmosphere is fueled by exalted snobbery and the "You Da Man!" count ranks among the lowest on the PGA Tour. In Dallas, they might get 50,000 to show up on a Friday afternoon, although 48,775 never make it past the beer garden. Where the price of admission, one might suspect, is waived for those wearing white halter tops and sporting ankle tattoos.
Last month at Torrey Pines, 22,000 people showed up for a Monday playoff, many of whom must have called in sick for work, all of whom got their money's worth. Four weeks later at the Barclays Scottish Open, Phil Mickelson was addressing his second shot at the third hole when a woman patron gasped, "Oh, goodness, he's left-handed!"
On a practice range in the U.S., many tour pros note the "great scenery" at the FBR Open near Phoenix. They aren't talking about the handsome desert landscape or the vista from the ninth tee. As for pure audio, last year's final-round duel between Mickelson and Tiger Woods at the Deutsche Bank Championship produced the most electrifying ambience I have ever experienced at a golf tournament. Nobody turns up the passion dial higher than a ballpark full of immersed New Englanders.
Having walked a few holes in my day, I could only imagine what was going through the minds of the 30 or so people sitting in the bleachers behind the fourth green here Wednesday. More than 20 minutes would pass between practice groups; a vociferous crosswind and temperatures in the low 50s could not have made that idle time feel any shorter.
I'd tip my hat to these British folk if a three-club breeze hadn't blown it into the fifth fairway. Yes, Birkdale's galleries are hearty, knowledgeable and well-behaved. Not only are the roars deeper, they are delivered with a more appropriate sense of timing, and to Americans such as Mediate, the cheers must be very rewarding. To any Yank on the Other Side, if what you hear isn't a boo, it probably sounds pretty good.