The behaviour of the American golf fans at the US Open at Chambers Bay was far better than that witnessed earlier in the month as Justin Rose saw his hopes of Memorial tournament glory at Muirfield Village, rudely interrupted by a local fan. Rose was the latest victim of the Yoo-Ess-Ay brigade, whose regular vocal attempts to put off European players while they are in contention has reached a point where action must be taken.
The Englishman had enough on his plate trying to keep his cool as he hit the back nine in the final round, very much in the hunt for victory. So to be subjected to an idiot shouting at the top of his backswing, which clearly put him off and cost him a shot at the 14th, was an unacceptable extra pressure that ultimately cost him the title. Had he not bogeyed that hole and continued his round uninterrupted, he’d have finished a shot better off than David Lingmerth and not had to face the pressure of a play-off that he eventually lost on the third extra hole to the Swede.
But in the wake of that shameless piece of bad sportsmanship came the most genuinely heart-warming moment in the play-off when Rose’s five-year-old son applauded Lingmerth for holing a courageous putt to keep himself in the play-off with his dad. That even a little boy can have a better grasp of etiquette and common decency should put these idiots to shame. Sadly that Muirfield Village incident was only the latest in an ever-increasing list where high-profile European Ryder Cup heroes have been subjected to abusive taunts from the stands. It’s not new for Rose, having had to shrug off a heckler while he shared the lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in April. He was playing with Tiger Woods – a big enough distraction for most players – and lining up a 15-foot putt birdie putt when a voice from the gallery screamed: “It goes right, it goes right”. Rose allowed the advice to invade his mindset and instead of aiming right lip he aimed for the centre.
He said: “So I hit a great putt which is in the middle with four feet to go, before it suddenly goes left of the hole. It’s one of those annoying moments when someone plants a seed in your brain. It just got my back up a tiny bit. It was rowdy out there but it’s Bay Hill on a Friday afternoon. You have to expect that sort of stuff.”
But why should you? Just because it’s commonplace for American galleries to act like ignorant drunken idiots, does that mean top pros should just have to put up with it? Sergio Garcia shouldn’t have to endure the kind of abuse he takes from the American crowds on a regular basis. At this year’s Players Championship, Garcia committed the heinous crime of being in contention for the title in direct competition to one of the home favourites, the popular Rickie Fowler. Nothing wrong with a bit of partisan support for your countryman – but when it spills over into actively trying to put his rivals off their game it becomes a disgraceful issue that undermines the entire event. At the time Garcia said: “It was probably about three or four times on every hole since the 10th hole.”
The worst of the lot coming when he reached the 13th and a spectator shouted: “I don’t want you to hit the ball in the water. I want you to hit two balls in the f****** water”. Almost as staggering was Garcia’s shrugged response when asked if this kind of abuse was an unusual situation: “When I get in contention? No, not really. Obviously some guys are there who don’t deserve to be here watching golf but that’s what it is.” That’s totally unacceptable!
It’s time for the PGA to start sending a clear message of zero tolerance to the big- mouth idiots who threaten to ruin it for the rest. Curbing the sale of alcohol on the course is never going to be a realistic option – after all why should the vast majority of decent right-thinking fans suffer for the idiocy of the minority who ruin it for the rest. So the only answer is to root them out and throw them out. No warnings, no second chances, immediate ejection. Granted that’s not so easy when many of the stewards at Tour events are locals volunteering their time for the week. They are not trained to be acting like bouncers facing down rowdy drunk fans. But with the amount of cash swilling around the PGA Tour, they can more than afford to employ trained security staff that are capable of following high profile “at risk” groups – and dealing with the idiots accordingly. It’s time to send a clear decisive message – not only to the hecklers that they will not be tolerated but also to the players who must be reassured the Tour is serious about protecting them and the integrity of their sport.