Winning a major championship is hard enough. Doing it with the crowd turning slowly against you, as it was while Brooks Koepka completed his final round on Sunday, makes it all the more difficult.
Throughout the day, portions of the Bethpage crowd were chanting Dustin Johnson’s name while following Koepka’s group. At times, it heckled and shouted “choke” as his lead evaporated. While he walked the 18th hole with victory effectively secured, there was audible booing. It was an ugly sight at times, but it gave us a taste of what’s to come when the 2024 Ryder Cup graces the fairways of Bethpage Black.
“I thought it was pretty weird how they were telling Brooks to choke,” said Koepka’s playing partner, Harold Varner III. “It’s not my cup of tea…I have a few choice words for that.”
“No comment,” said Rory McIlroy, when asked about the role the crowd would play during the 2024 Ryder Cup.
As a proud son of an American mother and a British father, the Ryder Cup holds a special place in my heart. I pull for Europe because that’s who I grew up supporting, and it’s where I learned golf, but it’s never all or nothing. When the U.S. lifted the cup in 2016, I was actually quite pleased, even if it’s not the outcome I personally hoped for. It’s a strange, conflicted place, but in essence I root for the glory of the competition itself, which is why I’m utterly terrified for what we might see at the 2024 Ryder Cup.
I was at the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, and for all of the wonderful golf that was played throughout the week, it was hard not to consider it — along with Brookline — among the low points in the history of golf fandom.
The fans played a direct and negative role in the contest itself. I watched with my own eyes Thomas Pieters being forced to back off a shot twice with a high-stakes match on the line. I listened with my own ears, earlier that same day, a fan make an expletive-filled outburst directed at Rory’s wife.
Yes, it was a minority of idiots perpetuating the problem — something I wrote at the time — but there was also an element of complicity from all involved.
Ryder Cups are more fun when they’re a little feisty, so the various parties make it so. The media, the fans, the tournament itself; they turn up the heat. That week, the pot was running too hot, and by the time they realized that it was already boiling over uncontrollably.
There was no revving-up of the crowd during the PGA Championship, but it boiled over anyway. Just as it did in 2002, when a young Sergio Garcia struggling with an uncontrollable hitch didn’t elicit sympathy from the New York crowd — but anger.
Sergio Garcia at Bethpage in '02. Can hear the crowd start to jeer towards the end of this clip pic.twitter.com/3amNquWrYb
— LKD (@LukeKerrDineen) May 20, 2019
The PGA Championship offered the slightest of glimpses into what the Ryder Cup will be, and it’s already a worrying sight. It offered scant evidence to suggest the Ryder Cup crowd won’t spiral out of the control. There’s no greater showcase of our game than the Ryder Cup, and nothing more disheartening than when it descends into poison.
The greater golf community needs to realize this potential problem now and begin accounting for it immediately. Fans have a duty to shame fellow fans that make any attempt at aggression or interference during the course of play. Players need to continue speaking out, and the media needs to champion the game’s core values to its audiences.
This crowd has the potential to put on a spectacle unlike anything we’ve ever seen. But to do that, golf needs to come together now, and solve this problem before it’s too late.