Pro golfers fac­ing threats off fair­ways

Se­cu­rity is in­creas­ingly form­ing around play­ers due to crim­i­nal me­nace

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - KAREN CROUSE The New York Times

His day of prac­tice done at Fire­stone Coun­try Club, Brooks Koepka headed to his cour­tesy car in the play­ers’ park­ing lot, which was cut off from the pub­lic by tem­po­rary fenc­ing cov­ered with ban­ners.

Be­fore dis­ap­pear­ing be­hind the fence, Koepka re­buffed an au­to­graph seeker who had a pin flag to sign, ex­plain­ing that he was not feel­ing well. He drove about five kilo­me­tres to the ho­tel where many golfers were stay­ing.

Koepka, the U.S. Open cham­pion, did not give a sec­ond thought to the fleet­ing en­counter un­til his girl­friend used the car later that day. Upon re­turn­ing, she said a man had ap­proached to ask if she would per­suade Koepka to sign his pin flag. The man matched the de­scrip­tion of the fan Koepka had en­coun­tered ear­lier.

The in­ci­dent, which oc­curred this past week, be­fore the Bridge­stone In­vi­ta­tional here, un­nerved Koepka. He won­dered: How did the man know it was Koepka’s car, and what if the man had been car­ry­ing a knife or gun?

The threats fac­ing the world’s best golfers were driven home at the Bri­tish Open last month, when the rental home of the de­fend­ing cham­pion, Hen­rik Sten­son, was bur­glar­ized while he was play­ing his first round. Some­one broke a win­dow in the back­yard gar­den and made off with money, jewelry and much of his wardrobe. Sten­son said this past week that the thief or thieves had not been caught, and that he was con­vinced he had been tar­geted.

In ret­ro­spect, he can see that he un­wit­tingly left a trail of clues to where he was stay­ing. He let Sky Sports film him walk­ing into the rental house hold­ing the Claret Jug.

He took a pho­to­graph with fans in front of the house, and he parked his cour­tesy car, with Open Cham­pi­onship mark­ings on the side doors, in the drive­way.

“I guess it was a bit of an eye-opener in terms of when we’re at some of these big events, we do make easy marks for crim­i­nals who are quite clever at what they do,” Sten­son said.

It used to be that the worst crime that play­ers feared was the theft of bags from the trunks of their cars. The ar­rival of the in­ter­net and the es­ca­la­tion of prize money have upped the ante. The play­ers’ com­pet­i­tive sched­ules are widely cir­cu­lated, and at any PGA Tour stop, it’s as easy to learn ex­actly what time the golfers are play­ing as it is know when the buses or trains are run­ning.

Af­ter a round at the Arnold Palmer In­vi­ta­tional in Or­lando, Florida, in March, Ja­son Day said he re­ceived a call from his wife, El­lie, who had stayed at home in Ohio with the cou­ple’s two young chil­dren. She told him that she had heard a prowler.

Day ad­vised her to leave at once with the chil­dren, and he phoned a friend who is a po­lice of­fi­cer. The friend drove to the Days’ res­i­dence and, ac­cord­ing to Day, found a man in dark clothes hid­ing in a tree on the prop­erty.

“Now if I’m gone, I have cops stay at the house,” said Day, who also plans to add a Ger­man shep­herd to the fam­ily as a guard dog.

The PGA Tour em­ploys a direc­tor of cor­po­rate se­cu­rity, Steve Ol­son, and has a group of con­sul­tants, many of them pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tors or re­tired FBI agents, who work closely with tour­na­ment of­fi­cials to en­sure the play­ers’ safety.

The se­cu­rity team may keep a low pro­file, but its finger­prints are ap­par­ent in the new place­ment of the play­ers’ park­ing lot here, near the first tee and pro­tected by a makeshift bar­rier.

Bubba Wat­son, a two-time Mas­ters cham­pion, said some­one had once fol­lowed him from the Muir­field Vil­lage course out­side Colum­bus to his rental house af­ter a char­ity event. Through a se­ries of eva­sive turns, Wat­son man­aged to lose the per­son tail­ing him.

“I never go the same route to my ho­tel or my house,” Wat­son said. “I al­ways change it up.”

Rory McIl­roy, who last played here in 2014, is stay­ing at a dif­fer­ent ho­tel this time. “The last cou­ple of times I played here, au­to­graph hunters checked into the same ho­tel,” he said.

Adam Scott, the 2013 Mas­ters cham­pion and former world No. 1, breathed easier when he saw a po­lice of­fi­cer pa­trolling the lobby of the ho­tel where he is stay­ing, he said. He is per­haps warier than most. Sev­eral years ago, he said, he en­listed the help of PGA Tour se­cu­rity when a stalker was pur­su­ing him. Scott said the po­lice pres­ence “is quite com­fort­ing.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

Brooks Koepka watches his putt on the 13th hole dur­ing the Bridge­stone In­vi­ta­tional golf tour­na­ment at Fire­stone Coun­try Club on Thurs­day.

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