MANY MOONS AGO spectators watching a golf tournament were known as a gallery although increasingly the term is becoming redundant as there is little that could be described as aesthetically pleasing about the spectators at many tournaments these days, especially in the USA.
The advent of Tiger Woods and, to a lesser extent the early years of John Daly, attracted spectators who wanted to see what all the media attention was about and were not used to the the low key behaviour of a traditional golf tournament audience. Sports fans more used to a baseball or American football crowd arrived on the golf course for the first time and ultimately found what they wanted in the Ryder Cup.
Since the creation of a European side to compete in the contest in 1979 an almost endless procession of USA victories has ended prompting some vile outbursts of xenophobia amongst spectators, reaching its nadir in the 1999 match at Brookline where one of the European players’ wives was spat at and obscene chants were directed at other European wives, players and also about the late Ryder Cup Captain and legend, Seve Ballesteros.
Whilst nothing quite as obnoxious has occurred since 1999 many sponsors, particularly brewers, in the USA seem happy to encourage the football crowd mentality with huge stands being built around par three holes and raucous spectator behaviour positively encouraged. None more so that at the par three 16th hole at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where Francesco Molinari holed in one to a shower of beer cans (see above).
Now, without getting too po-faced about modern day audiences, if the players are happy to go along with it and know what to expect on certain holes then perhaps an argument can be made for some good natured fun every now and then. When things become unacceptable is when overseas’ players get abuse showered at them along with the beer cans.
It happened this year at the Players Championship at Sawgrass where Sergio Garcia, in particular, was singled out for some very rough treatment. ‘It was probably about three or four times on every hole since the 10th hole,” said García when asked to comment on the heckling. On the 13th hole a spectator barked in Garcia’s ear: ‘I don’t want you to hit the ball in the water. I want you to hit two balls in the *****ng water.’
The likelihood of such abuse being aimed at an American player is unthinkable and during the play-off between Ricky Fowler, Kevin Kisner and the Spaniard the horrendous ‘U-S-A, U-S-A’ chant reverberated around the stands.
Thomas Bjorn, chairman of the European Tour Players Committee says, ‘They’re creating this big party atmosphere at these holes. It was like it was at the Honda, at Houston and in Phoenix. People drink to excess and things can very quickly spin out of control.’
This does not bode at all well for the Ryder Cup of 2016 and what is even more worrying is that violence will erupt at Hazeltine National between beer-fuelled rival supporters, a scene that is only too depressingly familiar to European football followers.
The PGA of America needs to get tough on security and eject any troublemakers as it should have done at Sawgrass. Yet when you hear American comedian, George Lopez, saying, ‘Forget the Road Hole at St Andrews. This is the greatest hole in golf’ referring to the baying crowd surrounding the par three 17th at Sawgrass, it is clear that the US media is doing far more to fan the flames of potential trouble than it is willing to stamp down hard on it.
The inane calls of ‘Geddindahole’ and the truly moronic ‘Mashed potatoes’ are almost as nothing to some of the foul mouthed racism that could, all to easily, occur at Hazeltine in 2016; and with it serious outbreaks of spectator violence on a golf course for the very first time.