Ardmore, Pa. — Philadelphia is notorious for its passionate and opinionated fanbase, so it was expected for Sergio Garcia to become a bit of a punching bag during the first round of the U.S. Open at Merion. Through his first three-and-a-half holes before the weather horn blew, the reaction was relatively tame. In a way, it was even a little cowardly.
The 11th tee was stacked with fans early on Thursday, but by the time Garcia's group reached its first tee, the crowd had thinned considerably, mostly following Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker and Keegan Bradley or the group after that with Matt Kuchar and Brandt Snedeker.
Still, the lure of seeing Sergio kept a good number of fans at 11, but it was, by and large, a positive reaction at the tee.
Most of the fans swallowed their inner "Philly" and acted like traditional golf fans, cheering for everyone but cheering louder for the players they actually like.
Still, some fans couldn't resist a jab from the gallery. There was one very loud "boo" among the many cheers when Garcia's name was announced.
Far more people are pulling for Sergio than one might have expected. A woman who came to the 11th hole just as Garcia was about to tee off said she's rooting for the Spaniard this week. I pressed her as to why, and she offered, "Because of what happened at the last tournament with Tiger Woods. You know…Tiger Woods."
Honestly, I didn't know if the "you know…" was because she thinks Woods is a jerk or because the woman is a fan of casual racism. I wish I were joking. Sergio has at least one fan this week because of his public feud with Woods—which is interesting, to say the least.
I was told by a fan following the group that a man on the 11th fairway said, "Tiger owns you, Sergio," and Garcia looked the other way as if he didn't hear the remark.
Mostly, though, the Merion crowds have jeered Sergio to each other but stayed remarkably quiet whenever he walks by.
After an excellent two-putt on the 12th hole, there were a lot of "Come on, Sergio" calls, but nary a boo.
Sergio did get an awkwardly sultry "Good luck, Sergio" whisper from a female fan and received an enormous cheer on 13 when he stuck his tee shot to inside three feet.
It seems fantastic golf shots may be the great equalizer for Garcia this week. They may not like him, but the fans sure like good golf.
My favorite exchange between fans and Garcia came right off the 13th green, heading to the 14th tee.
"When he walks by," said one fan to his friend, "say 'Tiger's going to kick your ass.'"
"No, you say it," replied the friend. "They'll probably kick you out."
"Nah, he'll probably laugh."
A moment later, when Garcia walked by, they were silent.
Garcia has been giving the Philly fans ample opportunity to heckle him, too. When he hit a wayward tee shot on the 14th hole that forced him to hit a provisional, Garcia walked through the gates and directly into the gallery. It was the perfect opportunity for a pithy, obnoxious Philly fan to take his shot at Garcia's poor shot. Instead, they were silent once again, standing motionless, as if a lion had suddenly escaped from its cage.
Garcia took his wayward ball, handed it to a young fan and made his way through the assembled crowd to the rough, prancing—literally prancing through the tall grass—back to his ball. Then the horn sounded, and you could sense that Garcia was thinking to himself that five minutes earlier would have been nice.
The horn may not have been kind to Garcia, but so far the fans have been.
Notes From the 11th Tee
• The stoppage in play because of weather came at 8:36 a.m. The players were aware of the coming stoppage, and the USGA did a great job of clearing the course well in advance of any rain. The rain is so strong at times, you can barely see the sky. People are seeking shelter wherever they can find it.
When, and if, play continues on Thursday, the course will be a lot different than it was early Thursday morning, where the greens were extremely fast. Nothing will be moving fast when the tournament resumes.
Waiting for Garcia's group, I got to see 10 of the greatest players in the world tee off the 11th hole.
The two biggest cheers of the early morning were for lefties Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson.
The funniest moment came when Mickelson's caddy got a "Let's go Bones!" chant that was as loud as most of the players.
• Watson and Nicolas Colsaerts are using the same ball, and neither wanted to switch. Colsaerts asked Watson, "How long you using it?" in an effort to break the tie. "The whole time," Watson replied, seemingly uninterested in switching. Colsaerts noticed their marks were different, so the ball crisis for the first group was easily averted.
Through six holes, Watson is one over par, while Colsaerts is tied for second at two under. Perhaps Bubba may want to swap balls after all.
• While Sergio Garcia avoided being heckled on the 11th tee, other players weren't so lucky.
Steve Stricker hopped into the portable bathroom before his round, and one fan chirped, "Wash your hands, Steve," while another asked, "Did everything come out OK?" when he was finished. He didn't indicate one way or the other.
When Padraig Harrington used the facilities before his round, one woman suggested, "He's probably a little nervous."
• Matt Kuchar got a ton of "Kuuuuch" chants, and his playing partner, Brandt Snedeker, got a lot of cheers as well. There were fewer for Justin Rose, for sure, which may be explained by one fan yelling to Snedeker, "Win it for America."
It is the U.S. Open, I suppose.
• The biggest boo at the 11th tee? Boo Weekly.
• The biggest cheers were certainly for Phil, who also got the most "you da man" calls of any of the early players. One heckler in the crowd yelled, "Hit the fairway, Phil," for which another fan chided him after Mickelson missed the fairway, saying, "Nice comment, buddy."
The fans police themselves at Merion, it seems.