Ry­der Cup be­com­ing a spec­ta­cle for all the wrong rea­sons

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Doug Fer­gu­son

When play­ers broke away from the PGA of Amer­ica in 1968 to form what is now the PGA Tour, two prop­er­ties had to be di­vided. The tour took the lu­cra­tive World Se­ries of Golf at Fire­stone. The PGA of Amer­ica was sad­dled with the Ry­der Cup, which at­tracted hardly any at­ten­tion in the U.S. Just look at it now. Try to count the more than 150,000 fans over three days who roamed Hazel­tine, stand­ing a dozen deep, shoul­der to shoul­der, and filled ev­ery grand­stand even when a match was an hour from get­ting to that hole.

It was the lat­est ex­am­ple that the Ry­der Cup has be­come the big­gest spec­ta­cle in golf (but only be­cause the Masters would never want “spec­ta­cle” to be as­so­ci­ated with its tour­na­ment). The Phoenix Open boasts of record at­ten­dance, but those fig­ures tend to be in­flated and half the crowd isn’t even in­ter­ested in golf.

The buzz at Hazel­tine was in­cred­i­ble.

It was the brutish be­hav­ior that comes with such an enor­mous crowd that should make the PGA of Amer­ica pause. The sto­ries play­ers once shared from the Ry­der Cup used to be about how ner­vous they were on the first tee. Now the sto­ries are about the ver­bal abuse from the Amer­i­can fans — cer­tainly not the ma­jor­ity, but enough to leave a bad taste.

“I got called a turd, which is the first time since I was about 12 years old, so it made me feel young again,” said Lee West­wood, try­ing to make light of a dark sit­u­a­tion.

Emo­tions were raw Sun­day night, and the crude com­ments from the gallery be­came a pop­u­lar topic among the Euro­peans. This wasn’t sour grapes. They sim­ply were an­swer­ing ques­tions. They gave full credit to the putting and prow­ess of the Amer­i­cans that led to a 17-11 vic­tory. Years from now, the 41st edi­tion of these matches will be re­mem­bered for shots from the play­ers, not shouts from a few un­ruly fans. The last­ing im­age from Hazel­tine will be Pa­trick Reed and Rory McIl­roy pro­duc­ing a four­hole stretch that in­stantly be­came part of Ry­der Cup lore, es­pe­cially on the par-3 eighth hole. McIl­roy holed a 60-foot putt and cupped a hand to his ear to bait the crowd. Reed an­swered with a 25-foot putt and wagged his fin­ger at McIl­roy. Both play­ers laughed, bumped fists and pat­ted each other on the back. It was great theater that de­fined the spirit of these matches.

No mo­ment was more painful than West­wood miss­ing two short putts, in­clud­ing a 2-foot birdie at­tempt on the 18th hole that cost Europe a cru­cial point go­ing into the fi­nal day. No one match was more com­pelling than Phil Mick­el­son and Ser­gio Gar­cia com­bin­ing for 19 birdies in a sin­gles match that fit­tingly ended in a draw. All that sul­lied this week was the crowd.

McIl­roy got into it with one vul­gar fan, stop­ping to con­front him and ask­ing that he be re­moved. Thomas Pi­eters was about to take his put­ter back on a 4-footer to halve the hole in a four­somes match when some ge­nius screamed out, “Hit it in the water.”

The cheer­ing and jeering at the Ry­der Cup is un­like any other golf event.

There were in­di­ca­tions early that Hazel­tine might be over the top, how­ever. Fans tend to wait a sec­ond or two when the vis­i­tors hit a bad shot be­fore cheer­ing the good for­tune of the home team. As early as Fri­day morn­ing, cheers for Europe’s bad shots were loud and im­me­di­ate. Andy Sul­li­van hit a tee shot into the water on the 17th hole and cheers rang out be­fore there was so much as a rip­ple in the water. And it got worse. “We want to play this tour­na­ment in the man­ner in which it should be played,” McIl­roy said. “The Amer­i­can gallery are fan­tas­tic. They re­ally are. We play week in, week out on the PGA Tour, and they couldn’t be nicer to us. They greet us like we are one of their own. But this week, at times, it went a lit­tle bit too far.”

The PGA of Amer­ica stepped in, but not un­til Sun­day when the Amer­i­cans had a three-point lead. It urged fans to be pas­sion­ate and re­spect­ful, and pledged a “zero tol­er­ance pol­icy” to re­move any­one who was dis­rup­tive and shouted pro­fan­i­ties at play­ers. The Amer­i­cans don’t have an easy time when they play the Ry­der Cup in Europe, though the tone is un­de­ni­ably dif­fer­ent. Amer­i­can fans tend to make it per­sonal. Maybe that’s a prod­uct of hav­ing lost the Ry­der Cup too many times over the last 20 years.

Or maybe there are sim­ply too many fans on the course for 32 matches over three days. Sell­ing more tick­ets is only go­ing to in­crease the odds of hav­ing more bad eggs who give Amer­i­can fans a bad name. It started at Brook­line. It isn’t get­ting bet­ter. If the PGA of Amer­ica is not care­ful, the big­gest spec­ta­cle in golf is go­ing to be­come a spec­ta­cle for all the wrong rea­sons.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.