One memory that stands out from my first trip to Las Vegas years ago is an ear worm that wouldn’t let go, even days after I left the Strip, where it seemed like every place you went, you could hear slot machines in the background.
Oops, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, so maybe I shouldn’t have admitted that, but the only reason I brought that up is that even as I write today’s contribution after the proceedings at Hazeltine on the weekend, I’m still hearing “U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A.”
If you’re prone to dissing the Americans for that chant, consider that the same thing happens when the Ryder Cup is played on the other side of the waves in Europe where “Olé, Olé, Olé” is the after-effect of a particularly strong performance by the home side and there have been plenty of those in recent years.
For that reason, the passionate and patriotic chants that went up from the thick crowds at Hazeltine were loud and constant at this year’s edition, which began with a pro-American fan chirping the Europeans on the practice putting green, before sinking a putt for $100 put down by Justin Rose on a dare by the Europeans.
As you can see in the first video, the Europeans were good-natured about the entire incident and actually seemed to make a new pal in heckler Dave Johnson, who also had a great time, judging by his reaction in the second video.
Pete Willett, brother of Master champ and Euro team member Danny Willett, offered these thoughts about American fans in National Club Golfer.
“They need to silence the pudgy, basement-dwelling, irritants, stuffed on cookie dough and pissy beer, pausing between mouthfuls of hotdog so they can scream ‘Baba booey’ until their jelly faces turn red.
They need to stun the angry, unwashed, Make America Great Again swarm, desperately gripping their concealed-carry compensators and belting out a mini-erection inducing ‘mashed potato,’ hoping to impress their cousin.
They need to smash the obnoxious dads, with their shiny teeth, Lego man hair, medicated ex-wives, and resentful children. Squeezed into their cargo shorts and boating shoes, they’ll bellow ‘get in the hole’ whilst high-fiving all the other members of the Dentists’ Big Game Hunt Society.”
Whatever that means, one thing is certain – it wasn’t complimentary and, after Europe lost to the USA, Danny Willett backed his brother’s comments. You can read more here.
A GNN reader, after watching the Johnson interview tweeted me, calling him a “jackass,” which actually reminded me of another heckler who became well known.
Of course, Happy Gilmore was all about the most unlikely golfer whipping a non-traditional crowd into a frenzy and where you draw the line between attracting the masses and the traditional polite behaviour expected in golf, often seen as stuffy by those on the outside looking in.
It’s a question that has become larger with every passing year since Happy Gilmore was first released and applies not only to raucous crowds. Just as golf once had a strict dress code, for example, many clubs have eased up on the attire required on their premises.
This year’s Ryder Cup wasn’t even the loudest. That title would go to the famous War by the Shore in 1991 at Kiawah Island, of War by the Shore, as some call it.
Then, there was the Battle of Brookline in 1999, when fans heckled and U.S. players prematurely charged the green on the 17th hole on Sunday when Justin Leonard sank a putt from another area code, walking on the line of Jose Maria Olazabal, who still had a chance to continue what became the clinching match.
As former PGA Tour player Richard Zokol mentioned in this post-Ryder Cup discussion I had with him after this year’s evnet, the Waste Management Phoenix Open is one of the PGA Tour’s most popular tournaments and it’s made a name for itself with its party atmosphere, not unlike what you saw at Hazeltine on the weekend.
The Phoenix event bills itself as the “Greatest Show on Grass,” while the Ryder Cup serves up something different in offering two teams to cheer for as opposed to an entire field of individual players, thus concentrating the support and raising the decibel level when your chosen team does something special.
Usually, the lion’s share of the cheers go to the home side. That goes with the territory if you’re the opposition.
“It has went a little bit too far, but you know, that’s to be expected,” said Rory McIlroy of this year’s Ryder Cup.
“When you are teeing off at 7:35 in the morning and you’re seeing people on the first tee with a beer in their hand and matches aren’t finishing until 4:30-5 o’clock in the afternoon, I know I would be done at that point, I don’t know what I would be saying,” he added with a laugh.
“So it has to be expected. It is what it is. It happened this week. You know, a couple of people out there crossed the line, but you know, we’ll take it on the chin. We’ll move on and we’ll definitely not encourage anything like that to happen in France next time around,” he said.
McIlroy was actually involved in having a fan ejected after one incident. Lee Westwood got called a “turd,” adding it made him feel young because he hadn’t been called such a name since he was 12. Meanwhile, Sergio Garcia was constantly reminded that he hadn’t won a major.
Oh my gosh, they even cheered when the Euros missed putts or had shots go into the water, but then again, would they cheer if they were at a NFL game and the opposing team missed a field goal?
Call it unsportsmanlike conduct, but these are paying fans, not players. The first question is how can you possibly stop them from cheering and secondly, why would you want to throw cold water on them when they’re seven or eight deep around each match?
“I think the fans as a whole have been very good and very fair, but just the very small minority are the people that sort of ruined it for everyone else, but no, look, it’s been played for the most part in a very respectable and fair, but tough, environment,” said McIlroy.
“I wouldn’t expect anything less,” he added.
“When the Americans come over and play on our side, you know, they find it difficult, as well. That’s what you expect at the Ryder Cup and that’s what happened and, as I said, hopefully we can give them a good fight in a couple years’ time,” said Mcilroy.
As several observers noted, the crowd at Hazeletine was a sports crowd, admittedly not a golf crowd. They could have been home. watching a ball game or the Sunday slate of NFL contests. They instead chose to be at the golf course for the Ryder Cup.
If that’s a negative, McIlroy’s Sunday singles opponent, Patrick Reed, didn’t see it.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever played in a home crowd. To have these guys do what they did, to have the team come together and when we’re down, having these crowds picking us up, cheering our names, it gets you going and keeps you going,” said Reed.
“If you hit a bad shot, they pick you up so you can get out of it. If you hit a good shot, it just builds more momentum over the putts,” he said.
That’s hardly an invitation to anarchy on the golf course, but these days, giant chasms seem to open between different sides of any argument, leading to polarization on either side. Is there any better example of this than the current American election, or even our own last year?
In the Ryder Cup’s case, does it do any good criticizing those who would cheer a missed putt or ball in the water? It’s also ridiculous to think you can toss somebody for that or chanting, be it “U-S-A” or “Olé.”
The Ryder Cup is promoted as a catalyst for national pride, or in Europe’s case, pride on a regional basis, so there are bound to be boisterous crowds that are deep outside the ropes.
That’s all the better for golf, but we can’t have it both ways and seemingly suck the energy out of spectators and illustrate golf’s perceived image as a stuffy, rigid game, especially to those who normally wouldn’t take in a tournament.
On the other side of the argument, it will take extra security to ensure the safety of players and other spectators from overly-aggressive fans, those who would use foul language, especially in the presence of children, or get a little too personal in their criticisms of opposing players.
It should also be stated quite clearly that anything that affects play, such as noise through impact of a golf swing or during the putting stroke, will be dealt with through ejection.
Extra security will be one cost in making sure it’s a more civil affair and revenue could take a hit by limiting the number of drinks each person can buy on each purchase, or permitting booze sales during afternoon hours only and keeping kiosks at just a few locations.
Generally, the European team was gracious in defeat and in the rough ride the American fans gave them, some even coming up with some classic one-liners about it, instead of talking revenge when the Ryder Cup goes back to Europe.
There were incidents, to be sure, but there usually are at major sporting events. You can’t invite people to come and cheer and then, expect them to zip their lips.
Proper behaviour at the Ryder Cup, or any sporting event, is generally common sense, even for newbies not used to being at at such a high-profile golf event, the people you hope will go one step beyond watching to actually picking up clubs and playing. You don’t want to seem overly stuffy to them in this day and age.
By the same token, if it’s determined that there were lapses in security or incidents that affected the outcome beyond home field advantage, it should be dealt with and shared between the two sides that host the Ryder Cup. There is a two-year window in which to get such things right.
The Europeans deserve full marks for their gracious nature and true sportsmanship in the tradition of golf and it wasn’t easy with such a boisterous crowd, many of which will hopefully take up the game assuming they had fun at Hazeltine.
Besides, the Euros know that, two years hence, the crowd is on their side and ““Olé, Olé, Olé” replaces “U-S-A!” as the home side chant. Let’s hope it projects a fun atmosphere around the world, along with the sportsmanship that makes traditionalists happy.