Thursday 18 January 2018

'How about a hot dog?' - Danny Willett endures few comments from US fans after brother branded them 'imbeciles'

Danny Willett of Europe plays a tee shot during practice prior to the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine
Danny Willett of Europe plays a tee shot during practice prior to the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine

Carl Markham

Fears Danny Willett would be exposed to an uncomfortable time at Hazeltine National Golf Club following his brother's controversial attack on Americans proved unfounded as the Yorkshireman enjoyed a low-key start to his practice round.

Willett's schoolteacher brother Peter's column for National Club Golfer magazine described United States Ryder Cup fans as a "braying mob of imbeciles" - among other derogatory labels - and caused consternation.

Masters champion Willett immediately apologised for his brother's actions - which former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley described as "ridiculously stupid" - Europe captain Darren Clarke distanced him and his team from the comments and his American counterpart Davis Love played it down but there were concerns there would be some sort of backlash.

Pete Cowen, coach to several of the European team, jokingly attempted to draw a target on the back of Willett's white shirt when they met on the range but the US crowd appear to have taken the furore in their stride.

The Sheffield golfer received some relatively harmless comments from spectators before he teed off for his final practice round ahead of the event getting under way on Friday.

'USA!', 'Hey Willett, want some of my jelly doughnuts?' and 'How about a hot dog?' were about as feisty as it got as the Masters champion warmed up and even when he walked on to the first tee there was no adverse reaction from the crowd.

Willett - and his parents Steve and Elisabet who are both in America to watch their son - have received the backing of USA team member Patrick Reed, whose antics on the course made him the pantomime villain at Gleneagles two years ago.

"It's forgive and forget. It's unfortunate that something was said, and not actually from Danny," he said.

"This is his first Ryder Cup and I know the last Ryder Cup was my first and it's such a special and awesome moment, so to have something distract you from enjoying your first moment is unfortunate.

"I heard the other day that his family was embarrassed; that they were thinking about flying home and that's something that just can't happen.

"I'm hoping the fans can put it aside and allow the rookies, not only on our side but their side, to enjoy it and allow Danny to enjoy the week.

"It's one of these things that it hasn't affected us in any way. I hope for the best for Danny and his family and hope they actually enjoy the week and that our fans don't just completely annihilate them."

Former European Ryder Cup captain Mark James was in charge for the ill-tempered narrow defeat to America in 1999 - dubbed "The Battle of Brookline" when players were subjected to relentless abuse from fans - and he hopes there will be no escalation of hostilities this year.

"The last thing we want is for things to turn unpleasant at Hazeltine," he told ESPN.

"They haven't at the Ryder Cup since I was captain at Brookline but these sort of comments don't help.

"I hope there won't be a repeat of those infamous 1999 scenes. In the editions since they have improved security and thrown out the odd person who has caused a problem but if you rile people so much that large groups are having a go at the players, you can't eject them all.

"At Brookline I made it very clear to the European players at the start of the week that the crowds there could be volatile.

"I told them to sign every autograph and be really nice to the fans. It didn't do us any good."

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