DUBLIN, Ohio – The din reached across every corner of Muirfield Village like unwanted nails on a collective chalkboard.
“We were back on that tee and they were rocking. It was really loud and they were going,” Patrick Reed said earlier this week. “They're fine because it's just kind of the steady kind of noise.”
Reed was actually talking about the cicadas that have created a horror flick-like soundtrack for this week’s Memorial, but unlike the incessant swarm, the fans at Jack’s Place only feel like they’ve been locked away for 17 years.
It’s become a cliché to blame boorish fan behavior on the pandemic, as if being locked away in our homes for 12 months has provided everyone with a license to act like a fool. Not that the Muirfield Village masses needed, or wanted, an excuse to act like children this week at Muirfield Village.
As Bryson DeChambeau reached for his tee following a wayward drive at the second hole (which found a creek) a fan barked, “Atta boy, Brooksie!” It was a not-so-veiled-or-creative reference to DeChambeau’s ongoing dust-up with Brooks Koepka.
In case you’ve been shut out of social media the last week, the game’s top two bash brothers got sideways when a viral video surfaced of a Golf Channel interview with Koepka. In the unaired interview, Koepka paused midway through his answer as DeChambeau walked by, muttered under his breath before asking for a do-over. Two people working together who don’t like each other. How original.
But what the duo’s feud has spawned is a frat boy atmosphere at the Memorial. Echoes of “Let’s go, Brooksie!” followed DeChambeau around Muirfield Village during a marathon Friday and as his third-round wore into the afternoon, and the Happy Hour crowd became happier, the collective became more emboldened.
“Go, Brooksie!” shouted a fan following DeChambeau’s drive at the third hole.
Borderline fan behavior has become the go-to move of the summer and the hecklers were certainly on their game at the Memorial, but officials were having no part of it.
The fan who yelled at DeChambeau on the second tee was warned. As was the young man who shouted at him on the third tee. It seems officials were going with a “two-strike” policy on Saturday, but by many accounts, the policy was zero tolerance on the second day when a handful of outspoken types were escorted off the property.
This is golf and that kind of behavior is verboten.
Or is it?
Golf has worked for decades to earn “mainstream” status, whatever that means, but on the occasions when the game actually inches toward that top ring the ugly side of success sends powerbrokers into cold sweats.
At the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National, when mainstream came calling, the behavior on the course left many on the losing European side stunned. On some level, it was the same at the ’17 Presidents Cup outside New York City.
Now there's this. Fans barking at players fueled by a sophomoric feud. The exit is that way, but should it be?
While the NBA struggles with real issues following a series of high-profile incidents – most notably involving Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving, who was targeted by a fan with a water bottle last week in Boston – golf plants its flag for unacceptable behavior at name-calling. It wasn’t even obscene name-calling.
Imagine the blowback to the hapless Chicago fan who calls Aaron Rodgers, the superstar Green Bay quarterback, Jordan Love, who was drafted last year to someday replace Rodgers. Oh, the horror.
Traditionalists will argue that golf is different. Those golfers call penalties on themselves and there is an appropriate way to cheer. “My man, Brooksie!” isn’t it.
“I mean, it's part of sports,” said Jon Rahm, who was the 54-hole leader at the Memorial until he was forced to withdraw because of a positive COVID-19 test. “It's only unfortunate that sometimes fans go a little bit too far and we can't do anything about it. I think the only unfortunate part, we athletes are held to a certain standard and the fans are not.”
Rahm’s point is valid and the game is probably long overdo for a conversation about what in 2021 is appropriate fan behavior at PGA Tour events. Yelling in someone’s backswing? Absolutely not. Offering a playful, “Nice putt, JT!” when Jordan Spieth misses a 4-footer? That’s probably worth having a talk.
In DeChambeau’s meager defense this isn’t a Bryson issue. There will be those who say he’s a fragile spirit and should have simply ignored the taunts but the fact is he has desperately tried to remain above the fray. He also acknowledged following his round Saturday that this might be where the game is going, for better or worse.
“From an integrity standpoint and an honor of the game standpoint the game has always been played in a certain way,” DeChambeau said. “I think golf is changing, it's evolving, so there's going to come a time where it is going to be like this and if I'm the person to take the brunt of it and whatever, you know, great.”
DeChambeau had to speak up because of the incessant buzz from the cicadas. It was fine, they’ll be gone in a week. But the fans, loud and unrestrained, aren’t going anywhere.