Padraig Harrington has a message for his fellow pros who have been complaining about fan behaviour at events such as the Waste Management Phoenix Open: “If you don’t like it, don’t go.”
The three-time major winner has spoken out in defence of spectators, who have been on the wrong-end of a lot of negative press already early in the year.
Many players complained about inappropriate heckling at TPC Scottsdale – particularly on the par-3 16th ‘Stadium Hole’ – whilst Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas were unimpressed by some comments coming from the other side of the ropes at last week’s Genesis Open.
Harrington, though, sees it differently. Dismissing suggestions that some players now purposefully avoid the Phoenix Open as “complete rubbish”, he added that so-called ‘Party Holes’ are “fantastic”.
“I had a spectator who was with me last week say that if the PGA Tour didn't sell drink at an event, they wouldn't have spectators at an event,” he said. “So which do you want. Do you want an atmosphere? Do you want people there enjoying themselves? It’s a Catch 22. I'd rather play for the $7m a week and have the atmosphere created and managed properly.”
He continued: “Clearly if somebody crosses the line, it's not right. I've never had it. I think I have enough people following me - enough Irish, enough American-Irish or Irish-American people - that other people wouldn't dare say something to me during my round!
“I'm not denying that people have had things said to them but it's not a question of stopping or shutting it all down. It's a question of managing it and keeping it in the right environment and creating a festival.
“Every golf tournament, bar the majors, has to be a festival. We're in the entertainment business. There's got to be more to it than just 72 holes of golf. There has to be an atmosphere. “Any golf event would be terrible if they went out there and closed the gates and had no spectators.”
Harrington, who was speaking ahead of this week’s Honda Classic, agrees that there needs to be better management of crowd behaviour but believes that should come from self-policing.
“It should be controlled by people that are there,” he added. “Like, if somebody says something inappropriate and they are standing beside you, you wouldn't stand for that, would you? That's just the way of life. But certainly, if I was coming to watch a sporting event, I would be there enjoying myself and that's the way it is.”