Culture clash reared its head early with Europe as pantomime villains
On Friday evening at Whistling Straits, the Englishman Tyrrell Hatton salvaged something from the wreckage with a blinding shot to the 18th green which dropped dead, maybe five feet from the pin.
As he lined up the putt that would win a half point for Europe, he was barracked with great gusto by the home supporters. He held his nerve and delivered. His team-mate Jon Rahm embraced him in a welter of relief and happiness.
Meanwhile a home fan made his way to the front of the grandstand and, according to Shane Ryan of golfdigest.com, kept yelling Rahm’s name until the Spaniard looked over at the caller. Having fallen into his trap, the fan shouted: “You suck.” Rahm quietly replied: “As do you.”
It doesn’t take a wild guess to conclude many of the loudest American shouters had by that stage supped a fair old skinful of suds. A few minutes earlier, the gallery at the 17th hole had launched into a raucous, lusty rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner. It was evensong with beer and patriotism attached, vespers with bourbon and hot dogs.
In fairness they had a lot to be singing about. Their boys on the course were in the process of giving Europe a good ole licking. And according to various TV reporters and commentators on the ground, the American players were seemingly mindful of the need to help keep a lid on things when their supporters were threatening to go over the top.
They apparently gestured to them on occasion to shush their antics. Ryan also reported that moments after Rahm was insulted by the first fan, a second emerged to thank him and the European contingent for coming to Wisconsin.
“By and large,” he wrote, “this was the least intense, least vicious Ryder Cup crowd I’ve encountered in four trips, and — at least so far — a major improvement on the barbarians at Hazeltine National (in 2016).”
So there’s that. But one ought to bear in mind the “at least so far” part of that otherwise positive despatch from the front line. It will presumably be damn hard to keep a lid on them this afternoon if the American team keeps winning matches on its way to a commanding victory.
And even allowing for their relative restraint on Friday, the perennial culture clash between golf’s European etiquette and America’s more, eh, egalitarian sensibility, reared its head early and often.
European players were booed when introduced on the first tee, albeit that it was more of the pantomime variety than anything meaningfully hostile. There were jeers and cheers when shots by the visitors disappeared into the rough or landed in one of the many sand traps that festooned the track. There were also shouts of “get in the water” and “get in the bunker” accompanying the ball flight of many a European drive. And a customised barb for the veteran Lee Westwood: “Where’s your major?”
American sportswriters have over the years been more than a bit mortified by the carry-on of the boosters in the bleachers when the Ryder Cup is hosted on home soil. One of them, John Dietz, tweeted on Friday: “Fans at Whistling Straits can stop being a bunch of ass hats now. Jordan Spieth forced to talk to people making inappropriate comments. Then a fan yells ‘get in the bunker’ after Lee Westwood tees off on
No 1. Enough. Cheer on your country. And show some class.”
Fair play to Mr Dietz, and fair play to Mr Spieth too. Sadly, the latter was then caught on camera on the sixth hole Friday morning uttering a cuss word. And of course, in the straitlaced corporate world of television sports broadcasting, no sooner had Spieth said “shit” after his wayward tee shot, than the chap on Sky TV was apologising to viewers. As if the viewers cared one iota.
The wind blew up in the afternoon, gusting in off Lake Michigan with enough force to derail a lot of shots that would have travelled serenely to their target that morning. Rahm’s drive at 14 was one such victim. “Fore left,” he cried as the ball headed for a bunch of spectators off the fairway. And having done his bit for public health and safety, the Spaniard muttered something about a “f**king gust right on the back swing”.
Rob Lee on Sky: “Apologies for the language.” At the next hole, the world number one watched anxiously as his approach shot missed the green. “No f**king way,” he moaned. Rob Lee: “Apologies for bad language from Jon Rahm. Frustration starting to set in.”
Bryson DeChambeau has been accused in the past of being a tad cavalier when it comes to spectator safety. “The mad bomber”, as Butch Harmon called him, duly hit a lady on the leg with his drive from the first tee in the afternoon fourballs. Of all the American fans that could have done with a slap of a ball to shut them up for a while, this particular person seemed the least deserving.
At the fifth, golf’s most controversial circus act uncorked a drive so monstrous, it had seasoned pundits staring in disbelief. Rather than going round the water as everyone else did, he went over it, undeterred by a gallery of supporters that were also in the line of fire if he got his contact wrong. But he got it plumb.
The ball sailed into the blue before coming to a halt 417 yards later. Andrew Coltart, the Scottish professional, declared it “one of the most outstanding tee shots I have ever witnessed in my life”.
At the par 5 16th, DeChambeau launched another monstrosity. But this one wasn’t quite plumb. “Fore right,” he hollered in warning to a crowd of spectators who probably couldn’t hear him because they were so far away. They were oblivious to the incoming ordnance. Bryson did not seem especially racked with guilt.
After surveying the trajectory of his latest missile, he turned to his colleagues and jauntily declared that the end result was “gonna be perfectly fine”. Pause for comic effect. “If it doesn’t kill somebody.” There was silence in the commentary box after that particular gag.
Early on Friday morning Rahm sank a huge putt at the fourth. “Well, well, well,” declared one of Sky’s British commentators. “That’s one way to quieten the crowd.”
Unfortunately they weren’t quiet for long. Chants of “U-S-A” rang around the course from dawn to dusk, interspersed with various cries of “yeah baby” and “go baby” and “America” and “we love you Phil”.
The latter was directed at legendary old Lefty himself, USA vice-captain Phil Mickelson. We doubt he was much moved by this beery declaration of love from the gallery. He knows only too well what they’re like when the shoe is on the other foot.
When Rahm and his countryman Sergio Garcia won their Friday morning match in the foursomes, they were greeted by a chorus of boos from the gallery.
Garcia, like Mickelson, has been around long enough to know what they’re like too. In reply to the boos, Sergio blew them a kiss and smiled. They laughed too.
Really, it was all just fun and games: stars and stripes, beer and birdies, and America the beautiful without its make-up on.