Loudmouth US fans could make for an ugly scene at the Ryder Cup

Declining standards of galleries exacerbated by coarsening of society across America

United States fans at the first tee ahead of the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota. Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

United States fans at the first tee ahead of the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota. Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

 

At the Solheim Cup in Toledo earlier this month, some on-course volunteers wore stars and stripes cowboy hats and held up signs toward the crowd that read “Get Loud” rather than the traditional “Quiet Please”. A departure from normal golfing etiquette to ensure that, in the absence of any significant European fans, the natives might make enough noise at crucial junctures. Some got the message, judging by the terrible heckling and abuse Sweden’s Madelene Sagstrom received after she prematurely picked up Nelly Korda’s 13th hole eagle putt that lipped the cup on day one.

Over the course of seven days, the Solheim Cup drew 130,000 fans to Inverness Golf Club. The Ryder Cup in Whistling Straits next week will double that. Galleries in Wisconsin will be louder, larger, and, if all signs are to be believed, a lot less polite. Indeed, this could be the most raucous and rancorous edition of the tournament yet. Aside from the lack of European supporters, there’s also the simple fact, as demonstrated throughout the tiresome Brooks Koepka/Bryson DeChambeau antics, the standard and frequency of buck-eejitry at golf tournaments has intensified over the past couple of years. It’s not a stretch to imagine it being much worse for an event that often brings out the worst in fans and, ahem, players, anyway.

Theories explaining declining standards of behaviour and an increasing absence of decorum around tee-boxes and greens are manifold. Some say it is the increased availability of drink that is fuelling these miscreants. As if free booze had never been poured in a corporate tent on a course until recently. Others, including the PGA Tour commissioner, reckon the disruptive carry-on is the inevitable consequence of the sport drawing a younger demographic. Too many testosterone-driven lads think they are at a college grid-iron game and act accordingly.

Like mistaken Thatcherite generalisations about English football hooligans all being disenfranchised lumpenproles rather than white-collar weekend warriors, the evidence suggests otherwise. Plenty of those shouting “get in the bunker” or “Brooksie!” in mid-swing are actually prosperous middle-aged men getting their inner lout on.

Similarly wrongheaded are attempts to paint this as some sort of post-lockdown release of pent-up frustrations. Two years before the pandemic struck, there was already a prolonged debate about how to address the growing problem of fans misbehaving and tormenting players at critical moments. Justin Thomas had a loudmouth removed for heckling him at the 2018 Honda Classic. Rory Mcllroy called for alcohol sales to be restricted after dealing with clowns repeatedly shouting his wife’s name at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

“People will make the argument that, well, it happens in every other sport,” said Mcllroy. “But I would say that we’re not any other sport and I think golf should hold itself to a higher standard. I mean, the players are certainly held to a higher standard than other sports, so why wouldn’t our fan base be?”

Rory McIlroy takes it to the gallery during his singles match against Patrick Reed in 2016. Photo: Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via Getty Images
Rory McIlroy takes it to the gallery during his singles match against Patrick Reed in 2016. Photo: Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via Getty Images

There may be another reason obnoxiousness has become more common and tolerated. America has undergone a general coarsening as a society since 2016. Before the election of Donald Trump, you didn’t routinely see lads tooling along suburban streets in pick-up trucks with giant flags saying “F**k Biden” (my asterisks, not theirs). That type of stuff is deemed completely acceptable now.

The former occupant of the White House was a serial name-caller, trading in vulgar put-downs and celebrating bad manners. Many of the boorish lads outside the ropes hollering “babbaboey” and “mashed potato” are members of his congregation. He is their god, the golf course is their church and the dread is the Ryder Cup will become the latest stage on which they can profess their faith.

Nobody is suggesting they will turn violent but, for many of these characters, foul-mouthed buffoonery has become their default setting. And, crucially, Whistling Straits will afford them the chance to drink deep of nationalism, their go-to toxic tipple. The mere glimpse of a stars and stripes causes the good ol’ boys to foam at the mouth. The sight of Old Glory emblazoned on everything from golf shoes to bags and caps could seriously stoke the “Murica!” fires.

Remember, the “commander-in-cheat” had not yet become president the last time a Ryder Cup was staged on American soil. This country was different then and, although he’s no longer in office, these remain troubled and Trumpian times. His supporters have not gone away you know and, if enough of them get to Kohler, Wisconsin, it’s not a stretch to imagine things getting ultra-jingoistic, unruly and ugly.

As artificial as a sporting contest pitting the USA vs Europe may be, it’s worth noting too that there are plenty of ignoramuses in this country who regard European as a synonym for socialism. These true patriots will cherish the idea of men in stars and stripes doing battle with a “left-wing” continent they know little about and care less for. Jon Rahm and Sergio Garcia speaking the dreaded Spanish (the language of the migrant caravan invasions!) could be enough to trigger these poor chaps.

Exactly two decades have passed since the cancellation of the 2001 edition of this event in the wake of September 11th. It had to be postponed because, at that time, as John Hawkins wrote in Golf World magazine, “Playing for Uncle Sam meant lacing up a pair of combat boots, not Footjoys.” The worry for the coming week is too many yahoos in the crowd won’t be able to tell the difference.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.