Rory McIlroy has not been immune to unruly fan behaviour and it’s why he sympathises with Bryson DeChambeau following the unsavoury incidents at last week’s BMW Championship.
Much has already been written in the two days since last Sunday’s final round on the outskirts of Baltimore and the incident that took place as DeChambeau was abused by a fan as he made his way from the 18th green in the moments after losing a six-hole play-off to Patrick Cantlay.
McIlroy along with Cantlay and Collin Morikawa attended the Tour Championship media centre in Atlanta earlier today (Wednesday) and all three were asked what they thought of this newest controversy engulfing the 27-year-old DeChambeau.
We heard a day earlier from PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan that fans face expulsion from golf tournaments if guilty of unruly behaviour. Monahan’s comments brought a rare social media response from PGA Tour members including Ireland’s own Shane Lowry who tweeted: “If everyone who calls me @BeefGolf gets kicked out there will be no fans left!!” Lowry was responding to a Lee Westwood tweet: “I’ve been called Lumpy, Oosty, Clarkey (amongst other names that I can’t mention) on and off for the last 25 yrs!!! And now you bring a rule in! @PGATOUR “
McIlroy, who is also chairman of the Players Advisory Committee said: “I think I sort of know what you’re getting at on the back of last week and some things that were said over the past few weeks, I guess. Yeah, a little bit. I think it’s different. As golfers, there’s a very thin rope that separates us from the fans, and then you hit a shot off line, and you have to go into the fans to hit it. So we get a little closer to them than some other sports.
“It crosses the line. I think there’s a certain, I think certain other sports culture has fed into our game and fed into the fan base that’s definitely affected it, and people will make the argument that, well, it happens in every other sport. But I would say that we’re not any other sport and I think golf should hold itself to a higher standard. I mean, the players are certainly held to a higher standard than other sports, so why wouldn’t our fan base be.”
It led to McIlroy being asked if he felt sympathy for DeChambeau or has he brought it upon himself.
“I certainly feel some sympathy for him because I certainly, I don’t think that you should be ostracised or criticised for being different, and I think we have all known from the start that Bryson is different and he is not going to conform to the way people want him to be,” he said.
“He is his own person. He thinks his own thoughts and everyone has a right to do that.
“There are certainly things that he has done in the past that have brought some of this stuff on himself. I’m not saying that he’s completely blameless in this. But at the same time, I think he has been getting a pretty rough go of it of late and it’s actually pretty sad to see because he, deep down, I think, is a nice person and all he wants to do is try to be the best golfer he can be. And it just seems like every week something else happens and I would say it’s pretty tough to be Bryson DeChambeau right now.
“And I don’t know if anyone else on Tour has spoken up for him, but I definitely, I definitely feel for him a little bit. And I agree, I don’t think he’s completely blameless in all this, but at the same time, I think he’s trying to become better and he’s trying to learn from his mistakes and I think everyone should give him a chance to try to do that.”
And the golfer who played alongside DeChambeau for 24 holes last Sunday before coming out on top to capture the BMW title and take a two-shot lead, even before teeing-up at East Lake into this week’s Tour Championship, was asked if he supported McIlroy’s view in expressing some sympathy for DeChambeau.
“I think it’s a tough situation,” said Cantlay. “I think, naturally, of course there is some sympathy because you don’t want to see anybody have a bunch of people be against you or even be heckled. I think anybody that watches sports and sees someone being heckled, they don’t like that inherently because if you imagine yourself as that person, it wouldn’t feel good.
“Unfortunately, it might be a symptom of a larger problem, which is social media driven and which is potentially Player Impact Program derived. I think when you have people that go for attention-seeking manoeuvres, you leave yourself potentially open to having the wrong type of attention, and I think maybe that’s where we’re at and it may be a symptom of going for too much attention.
“But it can be awesome too because if you succeed and you act perfect all the time and you do the perfect things all the time, and then you also go for the right attention-seeking moves, you get like double bonus points because everyone loves you and you’re on the perfect side of it. I think it’s just a very live by the sword, die by the sword type of deal. And when you leave it to a jury, you don’t know what’s going to happen. So it’s hard to get all 12 people on a jury on your side.
“And if you’re playing professional golf on the stage that you’re playing on and 98 percent of the people are pulling for you and there are 10,000 people on the green, I don’t know, what does that leave, 20 people that don’t like you, even if 98 percent of the people like you? And if those 20 people have had enough to drink or feel emboldened enough to say something because they want to impress the girl they’re standing next to, then, yeah, like, you’re in trouble. Like, people are going to say bad things.
“Golf, unfortunately, doesn’t and probably shouldn’t tolerate that. I think there’s a respect level in golf and there’s intimacy that the fans can get so, so close to you, and you’re also all by yourself, and you don’t have the armour of putting on Yankee pinstripes, and you don’t have the armour of having, knowing that if you’re on the Yankees and people hate you and you’re playing in Boston, you can tolerate it for three hours in right field. But you only tolerate it because you know next week or on Friday you’re going to show up and you’re going to be in Yankee Stadium and no matter what you do, even if you fall on your face, you’re going to have the pinstripe armour on and people are going to love you.
“So golf is different in that respect, that if you only have 2 percent of the people that are very against you because you’re polarising and because you’re attention-seeking, then you’re kind of dead because those people are going to be loud, and they’re going to want to say something to get under your skin.
“And I think golf shouldn’t let that happen. I think the Masters is a great example of a place that doesn’t let that happen, and it’s the greatest place to watch and play professional golf because of the atmosphere they create. I think if you look at the history of the game and you look at the respect that underlies the entirety of the history of the game, we shouldn’t tolerate it, and we shouldn’t celebrate that. We should celebrate the fan that is respectful and pulls for their side.
“So it’s a tough situation. It’s a tough topic, but that would be my take on it and I’m sure it’s not perfect, but after thinking about it a little bit, it’s the best I can come up with.”
A 640-word response from Cantlay and you can be assured this will not be the end of conversation, sadly dividing opinions at this time in golf.
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