Max Homa’s heckler incident illustrated risky future for PGA Tour, gambling

max homa

Max Homa walks by fans during his third round of the BMW Championship Saturday.

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OLYMPIA FIELDS, Illinois — Max Homa figured the man was drunk. And if he wasn’t drunk, then Homa figured him to be “the biggest loser,” as he said Saturday night. Whatever else, the man chirping Homa and Chris Kirk late during the BMW Championship’s third round was one thing for sure: a gambler. (An annoying one, too.) 

This mystery man — accompanied by a buddy, according to Homa — shouted at Kirk to leave his 18-foot birdie short, then rooted aloud for Homa to yank his 5-foot birdie as he began his stroke. His putt rolled into the cup despite this man’s strongest, most vocal wishes.

Homa got vocal in response, calling the man a clown. He admitted he may have added a colorful adjective, too. His caddie, Joe Greiner, did a bit of the same. According to Homa, these gents had $3 riding on the result. Three whole American dollars.

This interaction may seem somewhat normal in pro sports, and it may seem mostly harmless when Homa’s ball disappears into the center of the hole, but it’s a latent concern for people involved with the PGA Tour, whether they are players, caddies, wives or Tour execs. This is a quiet sport. It gets loud in reaction to a shot, but it’s quiet right before one And that’s what makes it a bit of a gambling problem. Fans can undoubtedly impact the action if they get a bit too excited. Or too invested.

So…will they? And what happens if and when they do? 

“I love that people can gamble on golf,” Homa said over the weekend. “But that is the one thing I’m worried about.”

The PGA Tour has been leaning in to gambling for a few years now, just like every other major professional sport. FanDuel and DraftKings are the official gambling partners you know about. There are more, too: Bet365 and BetMGM and PointsBet. 

A brand new DraftKings Sportsbook will be fully functional hospitality at TPC Scottsdale for next year’s WM Phoenix Open. That’ll encourage fans to place bets and then step out and watch them happen in real time. Just two weeks ago FanDuel launched a new suite of online betting opportunities, including closest to the pin and longest drive mini-games, urging punters toward ever-popular live betting. The kind you can do from your phone just a few feet from the action. If you think ShotLink is a powerful gambling service for the PGA Tour, just wait until it’s ubiquitous at Champions Tour and Korn Ferry Tour events, as is expected in the coming years.

While Saturday’s $3 snafu may have seemed like small potatoes, last month delivered a perfect example of the what-if scenario that rings around in Tour minds. The American Century celebrity event, held annually in Tahoe, saw Mardy Fish’s title hopes crumble when a spectator unleashed what can only be described as a wicked bird call in his backswing. Fish hard-hooked his tee shot, immediately taking him out of the running for a badly-needed birdie and setting the stage for Steph Curry to win in epic fashion. Curry’s walk-off distracted us from the problem: Curry winning is exactly what the heckler wanted. Fish explained on the Ryen Russillo podcast that the heckler had bet on Curry to win the event. He also stated the uncomfortable thought on many people’s minds: why doesn’t this happen more often?

“It’s just always something that’s on your mind,” Homa said Saturday night. “It’s on us to stay focused or whatever, but it’s just annoying when it happens.”

It may not always be as deliberate as the final hole of the final round, but the stakes were plenty high in Homa’s situation. It was the penultimate hole of his third round, playing in the final group on the course. If the only recourse action security can take is ejecting the perpetrator from the grounds, then what’s the cost at that point? Public shame soothed by a gambling victory? “It just sucks when it’s incredibly intentional,” Homa added. “And his friend specifically said it was for $3. Not that the money matters, but that’s a frustrating number.”

It is a frustrating number. Now imagine if that $3 had been $3,000. What might he shout then?

Sean Zak Editor

Sean Zak is a writer at GOLF Magazine and just published his first book, which follows his travels in Scotland during the most pivotal summer in the game’s history.

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