19th hole: Fan behavior issue won’t take care itself

SAUCIER, MS - MARCH 23: A volunteer holds a sign up to the gallery during the first round of the Rapiscan Systems Classic at Fallen Oak Golf Course on March 23, 2018 in Saucier, Mississippi. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images) Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

19th hole: Fan behavior issue won’t take care itself

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19th hole: Fan behavior issue won’t take care itself

The debate over unruly crowd behavior at golf tournaments is – much like those troublesome fans – growing louder, increasingly fractious and more persistent. A welcome respite looms at golf’s marquee event.

You probably won’t hear much chatter on that subject during the Masters, chiefly because you won’t hear much of the hecklers either. Enforcing rules that seem outdated is a tradition unlike any other at Augusta National, but one tradition warrants celebrating: A patron who bellows abuse or inanities at a player quickly will feel security on his collar (it’s always a “him”) and swiftly be shown to the street.

You won’t hear Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley asking for patience or acceptance of the lobotomized louts, or requesting that players simply deal with the disruption. Spectators pay to watch the show, not to be part of it. The Masters Committee understands that.

Why can’t the PGA Tour?

In the weeks since Justin Thomas had a heckler ejected at the Honda Classic, more players have spoken out on the need to combat over-served spectators. PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan was asked about the issue at last week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. Here’s what he said:

“We are monitoring it and taking it seriously, and we’ll continue to get that right. I think a lot of that behavior is going to be self-policed. I’d much rather be in a situation we’re in where we’ve got a problem to solve with young people coming into our sport. It’s a small number of people, a handful of people.”

Read that again.

Every assertion the commissioner made warrants challenging.

If the Tour were getting things “right,” then why are guys like Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, James Hahn and Billy Horschel publicly stating the contrary? What does he mean by “self-policed”? That sober fans should bear responsibility for quieting drunks? That ought to work out swell. Lastly, a weekend stroll at any Tour event suggests that often the problem isn’t “young people” recently arrived in the sport but grown men old enough to know better.

Monahan is correct in that the problem lies with a small number of people, but it’s a small number of people every week. In any event, headcounts don’t justify inaction. If that logic were applied to other security situations, then we’d have adopted a “wait-and-see” approach on shoe bombers.

When asked specifically about JT deep-sixing a heckler at the Honda, Monahan said, “In a situation like that, we’re hopeful players will reach out to our security staff and they can handle that. [But] yelling, ‘Get in the bunker,’ that’s part of what our players have to accept. In any sport, you go to an away game, in any other sport, and people aren’t rooting for you. Sometimes out here you’re going to have fans that aren’t rooting for you, but they can’t interfere with what you’re trying to do competitively.”

In summary: Players should just deal.

McIlroy doesn’t buy comparisons to other sports. “I’m all for people coming out and having a good time,” he said.

But?

“It’s not football,” he said. “There’s decorum, there’s etiquette. In football, when you are on the field you can’t hear all that stuff. We’ve a little thin rope that divides the fans from us. You can still hear what they are saying.”

It’s understandable that the PGA Tour is wary of being seen as a “no-fun” zone by clamping down. And the need to wring every dollar from the week ensures that tournaments are disinclined to take McIlroy’s advice – imbued with even more gravitas having been issued by an Irishman on St. Patrick’s Day – to limit alcohol sales. But those considerations leave open the grim prospect, as Horschel warns, that personal attacks from the gallery could someday lead a Tour player to brawl with a fan, Ron Artest-style.

But that’s just self-policing, right?

Monahan has shown an admirable willingness to take a fresh view on things in his short tenure as commissioner, but his prevarications on fan behavior are complicating a straightforward issue. This isn’t a referendum on growing the game or about tweedy killjoys debating alcohol sales policies. It ought to be a simple solution for the Tour: Welcome all fans, let them enjoy a drink, but broom the jerks immediately. All it requires is extra security deployed around the high-profile players who attract the beer-goggle boors.

No genuine golf fans will be driven away by such an approach. A few might even be drawn back. Meanwhile, enjoy the Masters. We’ll return to our regularly scheduled halfwits afterward. Gwk

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