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Unlike Ohioans, we can handle our phones

JIM JUSTICE HAS often said he lured the PGA Tour to his sprawling Greenbrier resort to show that West Virginians are much, much better than all those tired old stereotypes.

Heck, I think it's just a good opportunity to prove we're better than Ohio. I mean, we drive better than they do, right?

Then again, so does Stevie Wonder.

But when Tiger Woods and 155 other better-than-average golfers descend on the Old White TPC grounds for the third Classic, we will show, once again, that we are the most hospitable gallery in America.

And a little less loopy than our neighbors across the river.

(Virginia, we know you're in the house, too. You pull your weight nicely.)

Several weeks back, I made another pilgrimage to Dublin, Ohio, for the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village. Was the big news the return of Tiger Woods and his subsequent victory?

It should have been, but that was overshadowed in the opening round by cell phones, especially their camera/video feature. It seems that quite a few fans showed little regard for PGA Tour rules, or common-sense golf etiquette.

For pure misconduct, that wasn't the most egregious act. In the days before the tournament, Bubba Watson and his wife were stalked by some moron, who tailed the popular Masters champ around Columbus for 37 minutes.

Watson and wife Angie had just left the "Bubba Bash," a charity concert featuring 10 Christian rock bands. (Great factoid: The backstage food was catered by Waffle House.)

The overriding issue, though, was cell-phone cameras on the course.

If you attended the 2010 Greenbrier, you may recall being told at the gate that phones were a no-no, not even turned off completely. Later that year, the PGA Tour surrendered to the smart-phone revolution, but asked that phones be put on silent or vibrate mode.

The policy is not hard. There are designated areas for making calls, away from play. Texting is allowed, unless you're near a player over his ball. Video is a no-no, but you can take pictures today through Wednesday.

But when the tournament starts on Thursday, forget about it. You can and should get your phone confiscated for the rest of the round if you take pictures of players, especially when they're lining up or making shots.

At Muirfield Village, the problem erupted around the threesome of Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson - the most popular non-Tiger trio you can assemble. The crowds gathered, and the phones clicked like crazy.

Mickelson audibly complained at one point, "I can't focus. I have to start [my routine] again, every fricking time." He shot a 79 and withdrew, citing "mental fatigue."

Watson and others have said the phones have been a problem all over the Tour. Dallas has been cited as a particularly bad spot, as well as Phoenix. (Phoenix is the rowdiest spot on the tour, so that is expected.)

Memorial host Jack Nicklaus sympathized. When a reporter demonstrated his phone's camera feature, the Golden Bear cringed. Compared to most of today's professional-caliber equipment, these phones are loud.

In the context of golf, they're really, really loud.

Which brings me to my challenge for the Greenbrier Classic gallery: Obey the protocol. Come to the pro-am and practice rounds and take pictures to your heart's content, and then leave your camera feature alone for the next four days.

I don't recall seeing or hearing about a problem in the 2011 Classic, and I was out on the course more often than not. I only saw one incident of misbehavior, from a group on the 13th fairway that talked as if they were in a bar. Eventually, the loudmouths toned it down.

If there really is a tour-wide problem with cell phones, it's time for West Virginians to become the solution. We can and will set an example for the rest of the nation.

At the very least, we'll do better than Ohio.

Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsmock@wvgazette.com or follow him twitter.com/dougsmock.


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