DUBLIN, Ohio: There appears to be no truth to the notion that cell phones drove Phil Mickelson from the Memorial Tournament.
Try telling that to the woman who stood at the 18th green at Muirfield Village Golf Club on Friday afternoon.
“That’s why he left,” she said, referring to Mickelson’s withdrawal following an opening-round 79 Thursday.
Her impression had just been fortified when a marshal pointed out a man poised to photograph Adam Scott and yelled to his partner, “Go get ‘em, Sarge!” The young man was Sarge’s second victim in a 10-minute span. He had just cajoled an embarrassed young woman to keep her phone in her pocket the rest of the day.
Phones were banned on the course until 2011, when the PGA Tour relaxed its policy after a five-tournament trial in 2010.
There is no going back. Tom Strong, the former Bridgestone Invitational director now director of PGA Tour tournament standards, called cell phones “tremendous fan enhancement.” That’s not only for the ability to check messages from friends and family, but to get Twitter and leaderboard updates on the tournament.
The problem the tour has encountered is not the phones’ ringing, but their cameras clicking.
The photographic frenzy created by Thursday’s dream pairing of Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson led to perhaps the biggest enforcement breakdown since the policy changed.
“It was the worst I’ve ever seen,” Watson told the Columbus Dispatch on Thursday.
“All three of us, even the caddies, the police officers that were with us, all of us were talking about how crazy it was,” Watson said Friday. “It was non-stop.”
There was plenty of blame to go around. First to the fans, who ignored the marshals’ ‘No photographs’ directives at the tee boxes and greens. To the marshals, who weren’t aggressive enough in taking phones and turning them in to the lost and found in the clubhouse for the owners to claim as they left. To Memorial Tournament director Dan Sullivan and his staff, who did not adequately inform the public of the rules. Posted signs of a cell phone with a red line through it were misleading.
Per tour policy, phones must be on silent and talking is permitted only in designated areas away from play. Videos are prohibited, and photography is only allowed Monday through Wednesday.
“Yesterday did we have a breakdown and a step backwards? Yes,” Strong said in a telephone interview.
“We fell down on the job. Our on-site security has worked with Dan Sullivan and his marshal team. They assured us they were going to be on top of it [Friday]. We beefed up some additional people around the marquee groups.”
But he also put the onus on the offenders.
“Golf is a sport of honor and we need our fans to do the same,” Strong said. “We have a policy in place and you want them to honor the policy. The last thing we want to do is take a phone from somebody.”
Mickelson cited his “horrendous” ball-striking, mental fatigue from three consecutive tournaments and a trip to Europe for wife Amy’s 40th birthday as he opted to go home early to focus on the U.S. Open in two weeks. The rainy weather forecast, with a Friday morning deluge resulting in a delay of 1 hour and 48 minutes, may have also played a part.
Sullivan said cell phones had nothing to do with Mickelson’s departure.
Watson said: “It wasn’t because of the cell phones, it was because of fatigue. He’s got arthritis. My dad had arthritis for 19 years before he passed and it’s not an easy thing to battle.
“He’s probably physically and mentally tired, all he’s been doing, and he shot 79. He had to shoot  to make the cut? He wanted to go home and rest for the [U.S.] Open.”
Playing without Mickelson on Friday, Watson said security told him they seized about 50 cell phones from their gallery alone. One member of their security team said a man left the tournament rather than surrender his phone.
“It’s not just this tournament, it’s all the tournaments,” Watson said. “It’s sad that it was here at Jack’s tournament; it was just a bad situation.”
Watson said the photographs wouldn’t bother him if fans waited until after he hit.
“I swing at it goofy and so everybody wants to take a picture of how goofy it looks. Ever since they allowed it, they want to see the monkey hit the ball far,” Watson said.
Stewart Cink, the 2009 British Open champion, said issues like Thursday’s happen all the time.
“If you’ve got 300 people saying, ‘It won’t hurt anything if it’s just me,’ suddenly you’ve got a whole new press corps,” Cink said. “It’s something we have to deal with and it’s unfortunate because Tiger [Woods] and Phil and Rickie and Bubba are going to have to deal with a lot more of it than most of us are.”
Until patrons become more familiar with the rules, enforcement by the marshals will be uncomfortable but necessary. More fans might be alienated, taking their phones and going home.
Sarge and his pal might have been overly exuberant. But if the Memorial decides it needs to form its own cell-phone police, someone is bucking for a promotion.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.