The ongoing initiatives by the R&A, the USGA, GUI, ILGU, PGA and all other alphabeticals to increase the numbers playing golf are laudable. It is essential, however, that newcomers to the sport are properly versed in etiquette and standards of sportsmanship.
So that’s thumbs down to the bad example set by the morons at Bethpage Black who chanted “DJ, DJ” when Dustin Johnson was going down the stretch with Brooks Koepka in the US PGA Championship final round in May. Their behaviour had nothing to do with Johnson. All he did was play his game and try his heart out to wrest the title from the reigning champion.
Koepka, to his credit, kept his head, used the boo-boys as motivation, and went on to win the Wanamaker Trophy for the second successive year.
He also made sure he would not be a hostage to fortune in the future by shrugging off the post-round questions about how he felt when boorish fans did their anti-Brooks/pro DJ routine.
This was the relevant exchange between reporters and Koepka at his media conference.
Q. Were you surprised, disappointed, that the New York golf fans seemed to turn against you there? You’re a baseball guy. Did you feel like you were playing for the Red Sox or something?
KOEPKA: It’s New York. What do you expect, when you’re half-choking it away. (Smiling wryly).
Q. Just to follow up that, can you expand a little bit more? Was there disappointment on your part? Is there disappointment on your heart? Harold Varner mentioned it in his press conference about he was disappointed to hear the chants of “DJ” when he’s not even in your group. Is there disappointment at being treated that way?
KOEPKA: No, I don’t think so. I think I kind of deserved it. You’re going to rattle off four in a row and it looks like you’re going to lose it; I’ve been to sporting events in New York. I know how it goes.
“Like I said, I think it actually helped. It was at a perfect time because I was just thinking, okay, all right. I’ve got everybody against me. Let’s go.”
Well, first of all, no golfer “deserves” to be heckled and booed, although we all know that the Ryder Cup, particularly when staged in the USA, has traditionally broken the mould for cheers and jeers when Europeans miss putts or hit wayward shots.
Not that Europe’s Ryder Cup following is full of saints either. The point is that as the ruling bodies continue to make golf more accessible and the Rules simpler and easier to understand, the sporting traditions of a great game must not be undermined.
All the more reason, then, to applaud the galleries who supported Mallow’s James Sugrue in his semi-final and final of the recent Amateur Championship staged by the R&A, and hosted so impressively by The Island and Portmarnock Golf Clubs. The R&A estimated the crowds for the 36-hole final in which Sugrue played Euan Walker of Scotland at 3,000. His semi-final clash with Australia’s David Micheluzzi was followed by around 1800-2000 people.
These were huge numbers for this, and indeed, any amateur tournament. For example, the 2018 Amateur Championship final between Ireland’s Robin Dawson and eventual winner Jovan Rebula of South Africa at Royal Aberdeen, attracted approximately 150 spectators.
Micheluzzi and Walker knew they were up against a strongly supported home favourite, but they were treated with great respect, as was only right. Their good play was applauded; their birdies, even when they meant Sugrue was rocked back on his heels in such vital matches, were cheered, maybe not as loud as the Irishman’s, but definitely appreciated by galleries who knew their golf.
Micheluzzi, though deeply disappointed to lose the semi-final, relished the occasion and the atmosphere.
“That was the coolest round I have ever played. It beats the Aussie Open, the Vic Open, Japan Open, all of them. The atmosphere was just unreal. All the Aussie guys supported me so much and even some of the Irish guys.
“They weren’t booing me or anything for making putts. It was just awesome and I can’t thank everyone enough for coming out. It was a real treat for me,” he said.
The fact that the Aussie would remark that the home crowd “weren’t booing me or anything for making putts” suggests that, even at amateur level internationally, golfers are not always treated as fairly as they should be by spectators.
Maybe that’s human nature. What is certain is that while the ruling bodies are busy ushering in the World Handicap System and growing the game, the highest standards must be upheld.
Let’s hope and trust that if – fingers crossed – Rory McIlroy or any Irishman is on the back nine on Sunday, July 21 with a chance of winning The Open at Royal Portrush, the home galleries show the world how to behave.
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