Justin Thomas rearranged the furniture in golf last week.
He moved the Hot Seat outside the ropes.
Thomas put the heat under the britches of that obnoxious fan riding him in the final round of the Honda Classic. While Thomas later apologized for having the guy ejected, he intensified focus on the line of decorum being crossed more regularly in elite golf events.
That may be good for the sport, but not so good for Thomas. With that in mind, here’s our special heat index measuring the toastiest seats in golf this week:
Burning britches: Mr. Baba Booey
Golf’s unique culture is being invaded by the more rough-and-tumble norms of football, baseball and basketball.
The barbarians are at the gate.
There’s an unresolvable dilemma in that.
You get more ticket sales, TV ratings and other profitable returns moving outside your niche, but you also get a threat to the integrity of the game’s competition.
You get the possibility that some unruly fan decides the outcome.
You get the possibility a fan ignorant of the game’s customs screams something that wouldn’t affect an NFL kicker, Major League Baseball pitcher or NBA point guard, but totally derails a PGA Tour pro.
Not because the Tour pro’s more sensitive, but because the game is inherently more sensitive, because a golf fan screaming in a player’s backswing is roughly the same thing as an NFL fan sneaking on the field and tripping a receiver racing up a sideline.
Real golf fans want to see great players decide the outcome, not some whiskey-breath yahoo.
Thomas sees that bigger picture, and it’s easy to interpret his reaction as an attempt to defend the integrity of the competition as much as it was an attempt to defend himself. We know that because of what Thomas said at Riviera last week and at Honda before the event even began.
If golf doesn’t push back somehow, this all keeps getting worse.
But Thomas may have put himself in the hot seat along with that obnoxious fan, only because the fan’s sin didn’t seem that egregious heard out of its entire context, because he didn’t actually yell anything in Thomas’ backswing. The fan apparently yelled “hit it in the water” before Thomas hit his tee shot at the 16th and then yelled “get in the bunker” after the ball was struck.
By making it an issue, Thomas risked making himself an easy target for over-served and overzealous fans. That’s a shame, because he is such a bright young star. He puts on a show that is something to behold, not to jeer. He stepped up to protect the integrity of the competition, and now he needs folks to step up and protect him.
Singapore sunburn: Shanshan Feng
The world No. 1 has reigned atop the Rolex rankings for 16 weeks, but Lexi Thompson now looms just 98-thousandths of a point behind her in their ranking averages.
Feng won’t have to look far to see what kind of pressure Thompson is applying this week in a bid to take the top spot for the first time. She is playing with Thompson and world No. 3 Sung Hyun Park in Thursday’s start of the HSBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore.
Thompson is an interesting study.
How did she move to a whole new level of consistency last year?
You never hear this as the secret to a player’s success, but it might be her lag putting.
Yeah, she improved her wedge play, her chipping and bunker play, but her lag putting took her confidence to a whole new level by taking pressure off the rest of her game. It made the game feel a little bit easier.
Thompson improved her pace, her feel on the greens, and it took so much stress off her putter, leaving herself less work cleaning up pars. That’s no small thing in a player’s psyche. She found that half shot per round that a player is looking for to improve scoring.
Feng may be No. 1 in the world, but she is underrated.
She is one of the most colorful players on tour, but she’s so underappreciated. Her cow-print pants and amusing wit help make her one of the most entertaining players in the game. She’s also one of the most consistent ball strikers out there. She’ll need that to keep fending off Thompson and Park and all the other challengers.
Scalper heat rash: Wannabe Masters patron
If you’re looking to scalp tickets for the Masters this year, you got bad news this week.
With Tiger Woods showing so much promise at the Honda Classic, the average asking price of tickets on secondary markets soared, according to TicketIQ.com.
The average price of a single-day ticket is now $2,948, up from $2,592 last year, when he didn’t play. It was $2,176 when he didn’t play two years ago.