Danny Willett endures torrid abuse from American fans - and they even turn on Bubba Watson when he intervenes
Danny Willett endured a torrid Ryder Cup baptism as the vast Hazeltine crowd made him the target of fearful abuse. As if it were not chastening enough to lose 5&4 in his fourball match alongside Martin Kaymer, the galleries baited him relentlessly over an online article in which his brother, Pete, had denigrated American fans.
The tone was set when Willett found himself jeered on the first tee, but the mood soured rapidly as the taunts from these Minnesota spectators increased roughly in proportion to the amount of alcohol consumed. “Your brother’s an idiot!” screamed one. “I’m hungry, can you get me a hot dog?” shouted another.
What triggered their ire was an attempted satire by Pete Willett, a teacher, for the website National Club Golfer, depicting US golf-goers as an “angry, unwashed, Make America Great Again swarm”. Alas, the behaviour of some of these home supporters did little to disprove his crude caricature.
At several points during this thrashing by Brandt Snedeker and Brooks Koepka, attempts were made to distract Willett over his shots. “Hit it in the bunker!” came the cry. The most bizarre episode, though, involved US vice-captain Bubba Watson, who tried to quell the rowdier elements after hearing somebody call out: “Your brother could hit it for you.” Upon his honourable intervention, Watson was told: “Grow a pair, Bubba.”
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Even American golfers were unimpressed by their own supporters’ conduct. Hunter Mahan, a member of three US Ryder Cup sides, said: “The fans need to control themselves and take it easy on Willett – he’s a good dude. He shouldn’t be punished for someone else’s mistakes.”
Darren Clarke, the European captain, pointedly rested Willett for Friday's foursomes before sending him out for the afternoon session. It came across as quite the snub for a young player who five months ago had won the Masters.
According to Clarke, Willett had been “bitterly disappointed” to read his sibling’s piece, and the manner of his loss with Kaymer suggested that his mind was still addled by the controversy.
At the 10th, one wretchedly-rude patron yelled after Willett’s ball: “Get it in the water.” Much as he tried to remain stoic, the remorseless vitriol was clearly distressing his wife Nicole, who was walking with the group. “I’m rather upset,” she said.