I was at Hazeltine in 2009 on Tiger Woods’ last day on top of the golf world. Last week I was at Hazeltine when the 2016 Ryder Cup possibly changed the way we experience tournament golf forever.
At the finish of the Saturday round of the 2009 PGA, Tiger Woods held a slim lead over a golfer named Y.E. Yang. Woods went into Sunday’s round having never surrendered a lead. Y.E. Yang changed all that and Wood’s fall from golf’s mountaintop continues to this day.
Last week Ryder Cup crowds of up to 50,000 spectators rolled like a tsunami over Hazeltine’s 7,600-yard layout. In an effort to get ahead of the colossal traffic jams blocking entry to the overflowing golf course, antsy fans arrived at Hazeltine as much as four hours before the first tee time. It seemed the best way to watch the clock was with a Bloody Mary in one hand and a beer in the other.
Seeing Red, Screaming Blue
With some fans chugging double digit beers, by early afternoon the profanity started to fly. Many of these fans didn’t receive the memo that golf is a sport built on respect, and a belief that silence can be golden. The patriotic zealots decided it was okay to shriek at European golfers in mid-swing. A throng of fans you wouldn’t want standing within earshot of children spewed venom at golfers not wearing red, white, and blue.
Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, and Danny Willett were particularly targeted by the booze infused fans. One fan’s abuse toward McIlroy was so over the top that Hazeltine officials thankfully removed him from the course.
On the Sunday morning of the Ryder Cup’s dramatic finish, multiple U.S. golf dignitaries implored the fans to treat the European team with the same fairness showed to U.S. golfers. With massive crowds wrapped 20 deep on each hole, Sunday’s thundering fan behavior was an upgrade to the frat house shenanigans of the days before.
The Future of Golf Events
Since Tiger’s slide and golf’s popularity peak of nearly a decade ago, It’s been suggested that a free pass to cheer and scream leading up to a golfer hitting a shot could jumpstart the sport. Would golf be better served by the same atmosphere we experience in the sports of football, baseball, basketball, and hockey?
It’s my personal belief that the drama, competition, and golf excellence of this year’s 2016 Ryder Cup encounter was second to none. The only smudge on this year’s Ryder Cup trophy came from the inebriated hecklers who thought they were doing the American team a favor by raging against the Europeans.
Only time will tell if this new golf behavior was a singular mistake or if the future of golf has changed forever. I gotta believe that Arnie’s looking down from heaven and hoping the hecklers don’t come back.
Cover Image via Instagram
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