Over the years, the PGA Tour has made it a point of stubborn principle not to air its dirty laundry in public. Now we know why. They’re not very good at it.
Yesterday, the organisation’s commissioner Jay Monahan delivered something akin to a ‘State of the Union’ ahead of this week’s season-ending Tour Championship.
Within it, he addressed the issue of fan behaviour at events, drawing attention to updates that have been made to the spectators' ‘Code of Conduct’. Going forward, said Monahan, “comments or gestures that undermine the inclusive and welcoming nature of the game will not be tolerated, nor will any harassment of players, caddies, volunteers, officials, staff, or other spectators.” Those found to be in breach of those regulations will be subject to expulsion.
Monahan was keen to stress that these changes are not in response to any one particular player or one particular incident. They have, he insists, been in the pipeline since before the pandemic hit.
If so, it's an unfortunate coincidence that he announced them less than 48 hours after the tour’s most polarising figure – Bryson DeChambeau – was reportedly involved in an ugly confrontation with a supporter who called him ‘Brooksie’ at the conclusion to last week's BMW Championship.
The former US Open champ, who lost the tournament in a playoff, is alleged to have confronted the spectator in question, angrily telling him to “get the f**k out”. Such heckles have become de rigeur for DeChambeau since an escalation in hostilities between he and arch-nemesis Brooks Koepka at May’s US PGA Championship. In June, it was reported that he had multiple fans ejected from the Memorial Tournament for baiting him in a similar fashion, claims that were subsequently denied by DeChambeau.
That, you might recall, prompted Koepka to parachute in and offer free beer, courtesy of his sponsors, to those who had been kicked out at DeChambeau’s behest. It was a stunt every bit as tasteless as the watered-down swill the four-time major champion was peddling. But the PGA Tour said nothing.
When Koepka continued to stoke the flames of the simmering feud over the summer – referring to DeChambeau as ‘fair game’ during The Open, for example – Monahan and Co. continued to offer zero resistance.
That’s the way they have always done things. Not once in the organisation’s history has the PGA Tour publicly admitted to fining a player, far less revealing the extent to which it has. For all of its mottos and marketing slogans, from ‘These Guys Are Good’ to ‘Live Under Par’, the modus operandi of the world’s most lucrative golf circuit (as far as it relates to trouble) has long been ‘Move Right Along, Nothing To See Here’.
All of which makes fan behaviour an interesting hill upon which to either die or make or a stand.
The sad reality is that Monahan has likely made matters worse rather than better. Players being heckled by the galleries is nothing new. Ask Colin Montgomerie. Ask Tiger Woods. Ask Darren Clarke. Ask any number of the players who have volunteered examples of the names they have been called on social media over the last 24 hours. It’s not right, it’s not particularly becoming, but it happens. Sticks and stones and all that.
The difference between other players and DeChambeau is that he is terrible at dealing with it.
Cast your mind back to the 2019 Northern Trust and the apparent genesis of his quarrel with Koepka. Aggrieved at having been (quite justifiably) criticised for taking more than two minutes to line up a putt, DeChambeau returned to the course the following day and demanded that Koepka – by then, an established critic of slow play – direct any future criticisms to his face.
Returning to today, more and more people are doing just that – and Bryson can’t cope. It’s an object lesson in being careful what you wish for.
It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for DeChambeau. He’s a young guy, still just a handful of years into what promises to be a long and trophy-laden career, and he already has an enormous profile. Much of that, of course, he has cultivated himself.
A complete list of idiosyncrasies would run into several pages but from his flat cap, to his single-length clubs, to his use of protractors, to spritzing balls on the range with water to simulate early-morning dew, to side-saddle putting, to transforming his body in a bid to hit the ball further, to celebrating big drives, to speaking in pseudo-scientific terms about the game, he has routinely, pro-actively and unapologetically tried to do things differently. Like him or not, you at least have to give him some credit for that, and even more for having done so successfully.
However, he should just as equally be aware that those who choose to be different will always receive intensive scrutiny. They always have done. That’s just the way the world works. People are curious, judgmental creatures. You want to go your own way? You want to tell people you’re right and they’re wrong? Fine. Just be ready to suffer the consequences.
For as much as there is to admire about DeChambeau – and there is plenty – there is much at which to despair. He tries to get free relief from fire ants that apparently only he can see. He could be much more dignified in defeat. He could certainly shout ‘Fore’ after errant shots a helluva lot more often. And that's to say nothing of his apparent stance on vaccinations.
Bluntly, this is a guy who, for all his unquestionable talent, is absolutely hopeless at dealing with the spotlight. He voluntarily jumped into this goldfish bowl. Did he not think some people might not like the splash he made?
It’s now clear that he needs to make some changes, and soon. He needs better people around him, not just the posse of sycophantic suck-ups who jump around in the background of his YouTube videos like testosterone-fuelled Jack-In-The-Boxes. He needs Brooks Koepka to be the bigger man, show a little class, show a little compassion, and stand down. And he needs the PGA Tour to show better leadership, even if that means telling him some things he might not want to hear. He is quite obviously, worryingly a guy in need of some help. But it has to be the right help.
Turning the water cannon on the spectators, as Monahan has, seems injudicious at best, reckless at worst. And where does the tour intend to draw the line? One man’s banter is another’s “harassment”, no? Short of silencing spectators altogether – and events of the last 18 months have demonstrated just how awful that would be – this policy promises to be almost impossible to police.
But that's another matter. The fact is that, whilst not entirely blameless, the fans didn’t create this mess. Making out like they did does them, the tour and most of all DeChambeau no favours whatsoever.