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Montgomerie not the only heckled golfer

Colin Montgomerie was not the first player to be heckled during a professional golf tournament and he most certainly will not be the last.

Yet, while the behaviour of American fans who taunted him during his first-round defeat by Scott McCarron in last week's World Match Play cannot possibly be condoned, it is a great pity the Scot even allows himself to be bothered by it.

Since his tauntings at La Costa last Wednesday, he has threatened to stop playing in the United States once this year is over -- and that would be a sadness for the game as a whole, if not for himself.

If Montgomerie follows through on his decision from 2003 onwards, he would miss three of each year's four majors -- the U.S. Masters, the U.S. Open and the U.S. PGA.

Furthermore, genuine fans of the game in the United States would be robbed of watching one of golf's most talented practitioners plying his trade on their side of the Atlantic.

It would also effectively end any further chance for the Scot, who is bracketed alongside Phil Mickelson as the best current player not yet to have won a major, to make his breakthrough at the highest level of the game.

Montgomerie, one of the most accurate drivers of the ball today, has come closest to winning a major in the U.S. Open, which always tends to be played on tight layouts framed by punishing rough.

He finished third in his first appearance in the tournament at Pebble Beach in 1992, joint-second at Oakmont in 1994 and outright second at Congressional in 1997.

It is perhaps no coincidence that Montgomerie has, so far, failed to resist on-course heckling in the way that Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Jose Maria Olazabal and other major winners have managed to do in the past.

All of them were able to ignore the worst of taunts with the same single-minded focus and concentration which helped them clinch major tournaments in the pressure-cooker cauldron of battle.

Player, who won nine major titles between 1959 and 1978, had to put up with far worse heckling than Montgomerie is ever likely to encounter when he was a U.S. Tour regular in the 1960s and 1970s.

On several occasions, the diminutive South African needed a security presence as political activists threatened him with physical confrontation out on the course in protest against the apartheid policies in his native country.

Insults were a common occurrence for Player and he often had ice cubes thrown him during tournament play.

In 1971, he was even the subject of death threats at the U.S. Open won by Lee Trevino at Merion.

"I dealt with it by not fighting back," Player said in an interview with Sports Illustrated. "I didn't fight fire with fire."

Jack Nicklaus had to handle frequent slurs about his weight when he began to challenge Arnold Palmer for golfing supremacy in the early 1960s while, in the modern game, Tiger Woods has to put up with more attention than any other player has received in the game's history.

Olazabal, who won the U.S. Masters in 1994 and 1999, believes the only way to deal with the problem is to ignore it.

"Well, I mean, you just -- you don't pay any attention to it," the Spaniard said. "You just try to do what you have to do and don't allow those things to interfere with what you are doing.

"It's very difficult to have everybody behaving properly, but you have to be prepared for that. It would be nicer if everybody would behave properly. But unfortunately, it doesn't happen."

Butch Harmon, who coaches world number one Woods, once described Montgomerie of having "rabbit ears" because he allowed himself to hear virtually everything going on around him when out on the course.

"If only he could ignore the one or two idiots who get under his skin," he said.

And so say all of us.

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