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|| News Item: Posted 2002-12-10

A Photographers' Etiquette Course
By Darren Carroll

Photo by Darren Carroll

Photo by Darren Carroll

Steve Jones pays homage to Tiger Woods. 2002 Memorial Tournament.
My, oh my, was the message board buzzing last Monday morning.

Somebody's camera went for a swim.

A recent post on the Message Board alerted us all that on Sunday, an unidentified photographer had committed the most mortal of golf photography's mortal sins: he fired early. Worse yet, he committed the transgression on the backswing of golf's most immortal mortal: Tiger Woods himself!

Now this is not an unbelievable occurrence. I don't want to say it happens all the time, because it doesn't. But when you take a guy like Tiger and surround him with the typical media horde that follows him around the golf course … writers, TV camera pointers, and photographers … the law of averages is going to come into play eventually.

What was unbelievable was what came next: In a turn of events that would make Tony Soprano proud, Steve Williams, Tiger's caddie, walked over to the sinner, took the camera, and dropped it.

Into a lake.

Okay, let me calm everyone down a bit by giving away the ending of the story: it wasn't a professional photographer but a fan. So before you have visions of Robert Beck's 400/2.8 sleeping with the fishes, relax.

Of course, none of us knew that on Monday morning, so when we read the post about it on the message board, the blood began to boil. A grave injustice had been done! Heads must roll! Sue the bastards! We're mad as hell, and we're not gonna take it anymore!

Fan or no fan, point-and-shoot or 1D, what Williams did was, at best, was very childish. At worst it was criminal. But let's let the ethicists and the lawyers sort that out.

If the posts are any indication, this was played up by the TV folks as another stupid photographer screwing Tiger over.
Woods has had his share of early-trigger incidents this year:
- at the US Open (the photographer found Tiger after the round and apologized profusely; Tiger graciously accepted the apology)

- at the British Open (a photographer fired early, both on Tiger's first and second shots of the tournament; his credential was pulled

- and at a tournament in Ireland.

Interestingly enough, none of these incidents ever had a negative impact on Tiger's actual performance; he won the US Open, played his way out of the British with an 81 on Saturday, and won in Ireland. But those are the big ones, the incidents you saw on TV. What you don't see is that this probably happens to Tiger, on average, once per tournament. Frankly, I'm surprised it doesn't happen more.

That's also why the report on the boards disturbed me. Why on earth would Williams do something like that to a member of the news media now? Not at the Masters, not when the Grand Slam is on the line, but at the Skins Game, a non-PGA Tour, "silly season" made-for-TV event where nothing (face it, to Tiger, 300 grand is nothing) is on the line?

I think I recall a couple of posts in there that urged that we err on the side of caution. One of them said (quite rightly) that rules are rules, and also added (quite rightly) that Williams overstepped his bounds. Another argued (quite rightly) for moderation, saying (quite rightly) that this was out of character for Woods and Williams, and that perhaps we should wait until all the facts emerge.

But that's about where the common sense ended.

What really surprised me was the tone of, and the attitude in, some of the remaining posts.

There was the requisite (and predictable) post about basketball players being able to shoot free throws in front of screaming fans, so why shouldn't a golfer be able to hit a shot with a camera firing?

(By the way, I find that "baseball players can hit a moving ball in front of 40,000 screaming fans" comparison to be a far better example.)

Ummm, well, because for a golfer, everything else is absolutely silent when he hits? Oh, I know, I know. Etiquette. On a golf course. What a silly, stupid idea.

There was also the (also predictable) notion expressed that the players ought to wise up and realize that if it weren't for the media, they wouldn't be making the zillions of dollars they are.

Well, "media" is a rather nebulous term. Do you think Tiger Woods and his sponsors give a rat's rump whether or not a picture of him appears in the Podunk Picayune-Herald? Or The New York Times? Or USA TODAY? Or Sports Illustrated? Puh-leeze.

Now, what they do care about is whether or not their shill appears on network television. Which, by the way, pays the PGA Tour to air its events. Which, like it or not, puts TV at the top of the food chain. And it also puts us somewhere on that same food chain between Sign Boy and chinch bugs. So, in a sense, the original poster was right. If it weren't for CBS, NBC, and ABC, these guys wouldn't be making zillions of dollars. But if it weren't for US? Newspapers? Photographers? Oh, my. Let's get over ourselves, shall we?

Then came something original … sort of. The (again) predictable "golfers are a spoiled bunch" (hey, I'll agree with that), followed by a new one, to me at least: the idea that it's important to establish a rapport with our subjects, and to let them know that we're there to work WITH them, not against them. The only inference that I could draw from that is that this is supposed to apply at a PGA event, as well?

I see a couple of problems with that. First of all, the day I try to establish a rapport with Tiger on the first tee of a PGA event is the day Steve Williams and the omnipresent PGA Tour/Tiger security detail decide to show me, head first, what it feels like to be a tee.

Second, as a journalist, I'm not there to work WITH anybody. Nor am I there to work against anyone, either. I doubt Tiger would agree that I was working WITH him as I painstakingly documented his 81 (I still shake my head in disbelief at that number), his absolute worst round as a professional, earlier this year.

Look, I'm not trying to make fun of anyone here, or put word s into their mouths. They wrote it, not me.

The point is, the posts to that thread seem indicative of a bit of naivete as it pertains to covering golf--what actually happens on a golf course, and how things work at a professional golf tournament. If we're going to try and pass ourselves off as Sports Photographers we could at least have the decency to educate ourselves a bit about the sports we cover: how they work, what to do, and what not to do.

A little humility wouldn't hurt, either. (I learned my lesson the hard way on this one. Ask anyone who was at the Houston Open three years ago.)

For starters, we have to stop living in la-la land, folks. The truth of the matter is this: Golfers merely tolerate photographers on the PGA Tour. And the Tour itself sees them as a necessary evil. And, worse yet, that's not going to change. Just because we, for better or worse, attach a measure of importance to our being out covering the Tour, does not mean that its players must, or do, share our sentiments. As such, it means this: just get out there and do your job.

And a good chunk of doing your job at a golf tournament means adhering to two commandments: use your freakin' head, and stay the hell out of the way.

And I mean waaaaaay out of the way.

Photographers granted inside-the-ropes access are supposed to stay an arm's length from the ropes. Now, some of us have longer arms than others, and some photographers like to push the envelope on this one. Experienced photographers. Ones who know the PGA Tour folks, are recognizable to them, and have established themselves on the Tour. If you're a first-time shooter, don't push it. Stay close to the ropes. Don't cross the fairways, and don't take shortcuts.

Bring at least a 300mm on a digital. The Tour hands out separate credentials for access inside the ropes. They started checking equipment this year, to see who is "for real" and who isn't. I hope they keep that up next year.

Recognize (especially when covering the big guys, (i.e. Woods, Mickelson, et al.) that there's more than one player in every group.

Recognize when you're not covering the big guys, that you may very well be one of ten people following your group, and that every move you make could be potentially distracting. You're not a chameleon; you don't blend in well with the surrounding foliage.

Wait until all of the players have finished putting out before you race to the next tee box and set up to shoot Tiger.

Don't place yourself in what's known as the player's "line." That is, if a player is lining up a putt, and can draw a straight line between the ball, the hole, and you, you're in the wrong place.

With that in mind, if a player says "move" then do it. Don't argue.

Try to stay inconspicuous. Well, as inconspicuous as you can be while toting a 600 on your shoulder. If there's one thing about covering Tiger that makes the job easier, itís the galleries. They seem to be the only people out there with less golf-sense than your average Bumblesnort Chronicle - Informer shooter covering his first golf tournament.

And finally …

Unless you really know what you're doing and if it's your first golf tournament trust me: you have no idea - don't ever even begin to contemplate the thought process for activating the necessary neuromuscular skills for pushing a shutter button between when a golfer has begun his "routine" and when he or she hits the ball.

And if you do, do it when you're on a different hole than I am!

Translation of above paragraph: Don't shoot on the backswing.

Or when a player is standing over the ball.

Or any other time that your gut instinct tells you that by pushing that button, you're going to stick out like a sore thumb. This is where using your head comes in to play.

Seriously, the reason I sound so concerned about this? Because those are the rules, folks. Like it or not, all sports have rules for photographers. If you don't believe me, try covering a baseball game from the pitcher's mound or walking into an NBA locker room at half-time or shooting an NFL game from the sidelines on the 50. Like it or not, all leagues dictate, to one extent or another, how we can (and can't) work.

And if you're not sure about something? Ask somebody!

The photographers who cover the Tour week in and week out are some of the nicest people you'll meet in this business. Nobody is going to bite your head off (well, Beck might, but try anyway). In fact, they'll probably welcome the idea that somebody cares enough to ask, because we all have a vested interest in making sure another photographer doesn't screw up, either.

Ignoring (or not knowing) the rules does a disservice to all of us, because what one person does out there affects everyone. If ten shooters who cover the PGA Tour regularly are following a golfer, and some moron covering his first tournament fires early, what does that leave? In the golfer's mind, it leaves 11 morons taking pictures of him.

The golfers don't discriminate. The PGA Tour doesn't discriminate. Idiot photographers are idiot photographers, and those of you who say, "Well, the rules suck" or "Why should we have to coddle these spoiled brats" or think the rules simply don not apply to you, only help to reinforce that perception.

If you don't like it, then by all means, stay away. The less you know about golf when you cover it, and the less you respect the game, the worse you make it for those of us who have to cover the sport--not just when it comes to your town, but for a living.

We all make mistakes. Even an experienced golf shooter will screw up. Trust me, I speak from experience. It's inexcusable. But what's far worse is someone who screws up not because they didn't know the rules, but because they didn't want to know them. Or still worse, because they didn't care.

The solution? Educate yourself. Know the rules. You don't have to like them. But we all have to abide by them.

(Austin-based freelancer Darren Carroll covers golf for Sports Illustrated, Golf World, and Golf Digest.)

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