Padraig Harrington has warned that it is not only American fans who behave “awfully” at Ryder Cups, claiming that US players have told him that they have been the targets of abuse in matches held in Europe.
The 2021 captain believes the problem is “now more bigger than ever” as not only have the golfers themselves come under fire from unruly supporters, but their families as well. And, contrary to widespread belief, Harrington is adamant that this is not solely a US issue.
“I wish I could say it is one-way traffic, but it isn’t and we should realise that and look at our own backyard as well,” Harrington told Telegraph Sport. “Some of the US team have said to me that they’ve got some inappropriate stick in Ryder Cups over here and we should bear that in mind at Rome.
“It’s not just the players either. The same as in America, the wives and families are being singled out by hecklers as well, with some pretty awful stuff going on. I’ve heard of people even being spat at and some of the taunting is unrepeatable. It’s reached the stage now that relatives must even wonder if they should go out on to the course. It should be a nice, proud experience for them, but that’s proving not the case.”
Harrington played in the 1999 match at Brookline, the Boston course that was nicknamed “The Bearpit”, with Colin Montgomerie the victim of unprecedented abuse. It flared up again in 2012 in Chicago, where the death of Justin Rose’s father, Ken, was brought up by idiotic American fans and such was the vile nature of the heckles, that Europe officials made a formal complaint.
Four years later at Hazeltine, one fan shouted at McIlroy ‘go suck a d---, Rory”. “I was the assistant captain with that group,” Harrington said. “And Rory almost jumped into the crowd. We have seen a run of Ryder Cups in which the home side has won easily and although I think this does have something to do with the home captain getting his own set-up, I’ve started to believe it’s as much to do with the hostile atmospheres the visitors have to face.”
Harrington admits. “I have no idea how to solve this.”
There have been calls for alcohol to be banned or at least for the on-course bars not to open until after lunch, but Harrington does not think that will work. “Let’s face it, it’s a different crowd that comes to Ryder Cups than all the other golf events,” he said. “They are a sport crowd, an event crowd, in high spirits. It’s got that big and that patriotic, this was probably always going to happen, but they do have to try something. It’s usually in good jest, but it can get ugly.”
The US team here have yet to substantiate Harrington’s claims, although events at The Open at Hoylake did ring alarm bells. Runaway American winner Brian Harman revealed that he received some “unrepeatable” heckles and felt obliged to have a fan ejected from the Wirral links when he was bellowing abuse at him as he was about to swing.”
Ryder Cup Europe does not give out details of the security operation, but there are both uniformed and plain-clothes guards patrolling the layout, as well as extra security and marshalls. “Miscreants will be removed,” an insider said.
Jordan Spieth was complimentary about Europe supporters, but does expect a “rowdier, more football-like” atmosphere than he experienced in Paris.
“I try and just throw it out of my head and just stick to what I’m doing because I think blocking out the noise is the healthiest thing to do,” the three-time major winner said. “I played a lot of matches with Patrick Reed and when he felt insulted, he turned the notch up. When I feel insulted, I don’t turn it up or down. I’m just like, OK, they are drunk, move on.
“I’ve also shouted plenty of things at sporting events at people that I have no reason to do, so I also try to say ‘pot and kettle’ and recognise that it’s all just sport and move on.”