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Cellphone tales on golf courses have a familar ring

Courses try to appease players and fans when it comes to allowing mobile phones on courses during tournaments.

THERE ISN'T a pro golfer who doesn't have a story about a "Play That Funky Music" ringtone coming from the gallery during a backswing, or the time a tourist with a flip phone snapped photos in the middle of a critical putt.

The Memorial is the latest tournament to try to do something about it. The event, which tees off next week in Dublin, Ohio, allows fans to carry cellphones on the course if they are put on vibrate. For the first time, volunteers will follow the most popular groups, hoping to alleviate spectators' loud rings and amateur photography.

"The tournament has achieved the balance between giving patrons the ability to use their mobile devices in the appropriate and permitted areas, while giving the players in the field the ability to compete without disturbance, distraction or interruption," said Jack Nicklaus, founder and host of the Memorial.

Areas will be set aside to make and take calls. The patrolling volunteers will try to clamp down on any abuses everywhere else.

A year ago at the Memorial, Phil Mickelson cited "mental fatigue" for withdrawing after the first round at Muirfield Village. Most believe the real reason was his frustration with a flood of distractions from outside the ropes involving cellphones.

"It took Phil out of his game," said Bubba Watson, who joined Mickelson and Rickie Fowler in that rock-star grouping.

As a result, the Memorial is trying to stave off a repeat.

At last year's PGA Championship, marshals would stop someone who was using a phone improperly and put a red check mark on the back of their ticket. If there was already a check mark there, meaning they had already been warned, the phone was taken away until the spectator claimed it upon leaving the course.

The British Open allowed cellphones for the first time last year, but observers said there were continual abuses of fans using cameras during play.

At the Masters, you must leave your phone at the gate.

The same policy will be in place at Merion Golf Club for next month's U.S. Open. Yet, ironically, the USGA, which runs the Open, offers its book of rules as an app for Android devices or iPhones - an app that can't be used during the U.S. Open by fans.

"We put competition first and foremost," USGA executive director Mike Davis said in 2011. "We're focused on fans, but if we were totally focused on fans you'd have the rope lines closer to play. We're more focused on the competition itself. And until we, as an organization, are convinced that we can conduct a U.S. Open, a Women's Open, U.S. Amateur, Girls' Junior, with spectators using cellphones, we're going to continue to prohibit them."