Ryder Cup Problem
The match has become bigger than golf
n so many ways the Ryder Cup is a unique event. And the vast majority of those ways lead to a positive conclusion. Certainly, no other week on the golf calendar promotes as much raw excitement and passion as does the biennial contest between the Old and New Worlds. It is something for our game to be proud of. Apart from one thing. Sadly, the crowds at Hazeltine National, while dominated by real and true fans with no agenda other than cheering for their team, contained a sizable rogue element, one seemingly ignorant of golf’s traditional etiquette.Time and again during the United States’ 17-11 victory, the matches were scarred by vitriol from specta-
Itors towards the visiting side that sometimes escalated into exchanges with players. Most of such problems are, inevitably, alcohol-induced. The number of empty beer cans littering the premises was testimony to that unsavoury truth. It probably explained what happened on Saturday afternoon by the seventh green, when a member of the gallery screamed something especially vile at Rory McIlroy. It led to an uncertain 45 seconds, before security intervened, in which McIlroy stepped towards his tormentor and barked back,“If you want to back that up, I’m right here.”
Thankfully, physical confrontation has yet to darken the Ryder Cup’s door. But it would be best not to get complacent, even if so much of the yelling and screaming has more to do with attention-seeking than anything else. The PGA of America was attuned to the possibilities, and on Saturday and Sunday made sure the public could see its “zero-tolerance policy” regarding “any fans who are disruptive in any way, including the use of vulgar or profane language directed at the players.”
Part of the problem, of course, is that the Ryder Cup is one of golf’s premier shop windows. So it can be argued that a bit of crowd trouble is no more than the price we must pay for “growing the game.” As leading sport psychologist Dr Bob Rotella pointed out as he walked with the opening Saturday afternoon fourball:“This is all about appealing to the nongolfer.That’s why every hole is set up for birdies.”
There is also a cultural aspect to this clear divide between two peoples who, in almost every other way, are allies.We’re talking about two very different outlooks on what support for a team actually entails.An example: Standing maybe 150 metres from the 10th tee on Saturday afternoon, a young American bellowed, “Let’s go, Jordan!” There was little prospect of Spieth hearing or acknowledging this rather pointless encouragement. No matter, it was given anyway. Then, a few seconds later, a terribly posh English accent much nearer the tee was heard to say, “Give us a wave, Justin.”
Perhaps most inherent to the Ryder Cup is that it draws so many crossover fans who bring the same kind of vociferous rooting (and razzing) behaviours that are normal at big team sport venues.
And so it goes on, with no obvious solution. Or maybe there is, at least on those occasions when a player is disturbed by heckling while standing over a ball ready to putt.When and if that happens, the putt should immediately be conceded by the opponent. Knowing that any attempt to distract will be counterproductive is perhaps the only way to counteract this cancer threatening to pervade the Ryder Cup.