Tour players at the mercy of loudmouth fans who want to be noticed

Liam Kelly

Tommy Fleetwood (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Liam Kelly

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Tommy Fleetwood screwed up his chance of a maiden victory on the PGA Tour when he sliced his shot to the par-5 18th green on Sunday into water, thereby ending his hopes of a Honda Classic victory and a maiden PGA Tour win.

In that moment, the Ryder Cup winner and five times champion on the European Tour, opened the door for Sungjae Im of South Korea to earn a prestigious title, a massive cheque, and secure his playing rights on the Tour until the end of 2022.

The Korean filed a 66 for 6-under par 274 and had a one shot lead ahead of Fleetwood whose drive on 18 left him 239 yards to the flagstick with wind coming from the right.

A birdie four was possible for the Englishman as he stepped up and swung a 5-wood at the ball, only to grimace in frustration as it swerved left to right and short of the target.

Splish, splash. No birdie for Tommy, who finished in third place, two shots behind Sungjae and one adrift of runner-up Mackenzie Hughes of Canada.

“I think we picked the right shot 100 percent, I just didn’t pull it off,” he said afterwards.

Regrets, he certainly had a few, did our Tommy. But none of them, at least not publicly, had anything to do with a dumbass loudmouth who roared “In Da Hole” as he made his swing.

Twitteristas got stuck into that one pretty quickly. Hard to blame them.

The video of Fleetwood’s shot and the soundtrack of the moron’s shout ringing out so loudly made it look and sound as if the golfer had been affected by the vocal intrusion.

In such a situation, the natural inclination of any right-minded golfing fan is to wish somebody would grab the dopey git and throw him out of the grandstand.

Whether watching on television or at the venue, the genuine fan wants to see the drama play out without any outside interference, so on social media, there was a fair bit of outrage.

However, a guy with the Twitter handle ‘Super Bowl Kirk’ posted a video taken from the gallery which suggests that the ‘click’ of Fleetwood’s club/ball impact came before Big Mouth’s “In Da Hole.”

Fractions of seconds in the whole thing. An unwelcome and mindless shout, but in this case, Dumbass just shades the innocent verdict.

The incident got me thinking about the frustration for golfers at tournaments when some twit in the gallery decides to affect the outcome of a shot.

Justin Thomas lost his cool in the 2018 Honda Classic and had a bloke thrown out for heckling him on the 16th in the final round.

The dummy shouted that he hoped Thomas would “hit it in the water” and then called for it to finish in a bunker.

Thomas lost his cool. “Who said that? Who yelled for that ball to get in the bunker? Was it you? Enjoy your day, buddy, you’re gone,” said the exasperated golfer.

Next day he apologized on Twitter following some stick for his red card delivery to the fan. “Getting a lot of comments on the fan incident yesterday.. sorry to any and all offended by it. There was more said as we walked to the tee wishing bad things on the course for myself or Luke. Then the get in the bunker comment over and over again.

“I felt it was very understandable to have him escorted out. I never want to lose fans, or have people root against me. I just didn’t see a place for that particular person to be yelling at us things that weren’t necessary over and over again. I over reacted… and should not have had him kicked out. I feel bad for it, but was more doing so because again I felt the stuff he was saying was completely unnecessary. I love all my fans and to hear that I’ve lost quite a few bc of that, isn’t fun. So I’m sorry to all!”

It’s a pity the player has to apologise. The heckler didn’t say sorry for his behaviour, and it’s nutty that so many supported him rather than the golfer. At least Thomas went on to win the Honda despite the upsetting altercation.

There have been a number of those incidents, happily rare enough, but I wonder will we ever see a day when a golfer does an “Eric Cantona” and lamps a fan for giving him grief?

Rory McIlroy came close enough in the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine on the Saturday afternoon when a loud mouth American shouted some vile abuse at him.

As Rory dived into the gallery after the guy, vice-captain Pádraig Harrington who was with McIlroy’s match, followed him in, thinking if it got physical he, Harrington, was going to have to channel his inner GAA man and start throwing punches in the shemozzle.

Luckily, the incident ended with security staff removing the abusive spectator.

All of that was kid’s stuff compared with the frightening atmosphere surrounding the 1969 US PGA Championship at Dayton, Ohio.

Protestors, operating under the banner of the “Dayton Organisation,” consisting of black and white activists had gone to war with the Tour over the event.

Among their 27 demands were: 3,000 free tickets for the locals; free access to all private clubs; the end of the war in Vietnam, and around $200,000 dollars to be distributed to the poor.

Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus, both in contention for the lead, were playing together in Saturday’s third round and naturally attracted the biggest galleries.

Officials expected some problems, as that was the day when television covered the golf nationally.

Around 400 cops were drafted in for the day, but the tension levels rose as the players wended their way around the course.

A programme was thrown at Player as he addressed the ball on the fourth tee.

Nicklaus was about to stroke a putt on the ninth when someone shouted at him. He backed off, settled again, went through his routine, but missed the putt.

Player’s name was called as he walked from the ninth green to the 10th tee.

He automatically turned around and a cup of ice was thrown in his face. He was then called “a damn racist.”

It all finally kicked off around the 10th green when a group broke through and charged the players.

“First, this shaggy haired white boy of about college age came out on the green.

“When he was grabbed by Security police I saw some black men come through the ropes and then some others. That was when I saw this big man heading towards Jack. It was frightening,” said Player.

Nicklaus saw him too and wasn’t going to mess around. As the guy ran towards him Jack raised his putter and was ready to defend himself.

Recalling the incident prior to last year’s Masters, Nicklaus said: “I remember one fella who was probably about 6-4 (height), 250 (lbs), charged on the green and he was like this coming at me.

“I had my putter in my hand and I swear, I would have killed the guy, because I had my putter…I didn’t know what he was going to do; and I reared back like this to hit him because I would have, and he swerved off. Saved his life, saved me, and everything else.

“What are you going to do? You have somebody (coming at you), you don’t know what he’s going to do.

“He just got out of the way. I was just young enough and stupid enough to hit him.”

Police arrested seven people from that encroachment, and four more from other incidents that day.

It was scant consolation for the golfers when one of the protesters said, as he was being led away in handcuffs: “We have nothing against you and Jack, Gary. We’re just against the PGA.”

The tournament ended in victory for Ray Floyd by one shot ahead of Player. There was no trouble on the Sunday but the South African had to challenge for the Major title with the tension on every shot of wondering when and if something might happen.

By comparison with Dayton ’69, “In Da Hole” is a trifling interference for the modern players. Let’s hope it stays that way.









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