The topic which dominated post-Ryder Cup media duties for the European team had nothing to do with the concession of the trophy for the first time since 2008. Rather, the level of hostility those visitors to Hazeltine encountered from a frenzied home crowd created a narrative which will flow into 2018 and Paris. The reserved French may tone matters down.
If event buildup was overshadowed by the rantings of PJ Willett, the problem thereafter was that too many spectators conformed to stereotype. Danny Willett, the Masters champion and golfer at the centre of such noise, posted on Twitter early on Monday morning to insist “some American fans” had proven his brother “in fact correct”. When Willett eventually takes up full-time playing residence on the PGA Tour, the reaction towards him will be interesting. “I meant every word about being sorry for what was written but unfortunately people made it tough to stick by that,” he said.
It was to the credit of the USA team and their backroom staff that they spent so much time trying to douse over‑the‑top antics from behind the ropes. The PGA of America, in an unprecedented move, issued a statement before Sunday’s singles play got under way. The Ryder Cup organisers insisted: “Our security staff will continue to enforce a zero‑tolerance policy, removing from the course any fans who are disruptive in any way, including the use of vulgar or profane language directed at the players.”
Darren Clarke, Europe’s captain, referenced a Sunday incident with McIlroy, right. “He was about to take a swing to hit it and some guy shouted in the middle of his backswing,” Clarke said. “The whole crowd turned on the guy and pointed who he was out to security. That guy was swiftly ejected. And that was all done by the American fans.”
Such evictions were visible to a level not seen before in tournament or Ryder Cup golf. The fact this were necessary is the issue and raises questions as to how the Ryder Cup will evolve as a spectator experience, not least when back in the USA.
“We wouldn’t encourage any sort of retaliation,” said Rory McIlroy, looking ahead to France. “That’s just not who we are. That’s not what we do. We’ll be making that clear.
“We want to play this tournament in the manner in which it should be played. And between us, the 12 players and vice-captains and captains on this team and between the 12 players on the US team, it was played in the manner in which it should have been played.
“We have no problems with anyone on either team, and really, it’s just a very small minority; 95% of the people out there, the American gallery are absolutely fantastic, they really are.
“We play week-in, week-out on the PGA Tour and they couldn’t be nicer to us. They are welcoming. They greet us like we are one of their own.
“This week, at times, it went a little bit too far. But you know, that’s to be expected. When you are teeing off at 7.35 in the morning and you’re seeing people on the first tee with a beer in their hand and matches aren’t finishing until 4.30-5 in the afternoon, I know I would be done at that point, I don’t know what I would be saying.”
McIlroy added: “A couple of people out there crossed the line but we’ll take it on the chin. We’ll move on and we’ll definitely not encourage anything like that to happen in France next time around.”
The particular issues are obvious: calling out on a player’s backswing; willing a putt to miss or ball to fly into a water hazard; and, to a lesser extent, wild cheering when woe does befall an opposition competitor. Boorish behaviour is boorish behaviour, regardless of sport or scene.
Here’s the rub; perhaps golf cannot have it all ways. Maybe in the quest to attract a younger audience, golf has to loosen some of its historic parameters. Cricket has done this, the booming music which forms a backdrop to T20 matches now accepted as part of the scene. Even within golf, the most popular regular stop on the PGA Tour is in Phoenix, where crowd engagement is to the level of an on-course party. Some 80,000 turn out for each of the tournament’s four days.
“They are here to have a good time,” McIlroy said in response to the suggestion that alcohol should be banned or more strongly regulated. “I don’t know how you could police that or limit that in any way. Telling people they can’t drink until 11am in the morning? They are just going to go and buy six beers. You can’t do anything about that. People are here to have a good time.”
How to balance that with disruption, as beamed across the globe, is a conversation that will rumble on until Europe and the USA meet again.
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