Rory McIlroy stepped to the tee this week addressing a long-overdue subject waiting to happen
It started so innocently but give Northern Ireland’s golf superstar Rory McIIroy credit for addressing a very long-overdue subject that forewarns a major problem that is waiting to happen any weekend now. And it is beyond amazing hasn’t happened before at any major (or minor) PGA tournament.
That is the increasing heckling and shouters to golfers that play within feet of them behind ropes at all events. Unlike other competitive team sports like NFL football or Major League Baseball, the crowd noise and ambiance largely drown out the overall intensity within play.
Yes, the players on any NBA basketball court hear the angry jeers, but no sport like professional golf relies on the cooperation of the crowd to uphold their tradition. Remember, golf is a "gentleman's game" that dates back centuries for attending participants to not interfere with the event.
In comparison, just imagine some goof screaming obscenities at Lebron James on the foul line with :01 left of a tied seventh NBA playoff game. All with 18,000 people in the crowd deadly silent!! Or even loving encouragement from the most loyal Cleveland Cavalier, Los Angeles Laker, Miami Heat, whatever fan.
How It All Happened
McIlroy was speaking in the wake of fellow PGA golfer Ian Poulter’s comments after a spat with a fan on the final hole of his first round at last month’s WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational in Memphis. Poulter bemoaned the fact that golf hasn't taken a firmer grip of "idiots" who spoil the fun for everyone else on Tour — including the players.
"It is a shame," Poulter said. "I hope going forward we can control it more and more and it gets stamped out. It is not needed in the game of golf."
Appearing on The Golf Channel’s Rory and Carson podcast, McIlroy said that in any sport there's always going to be the fan who's rooting against you. But he fears that the introduction of legalized gambling in the United States may exacerbate incidents like what Poulter experienced.
"But it is part of sport that people are going to root against you, people who don't want you to win for whatever reason, whether they put money on the other guy."
"And I think that’s going to be one of the big things about golf and legalizing sports betting in this country. What is going to happen is you will see more of this (heckling) stuff occurring because there are going to be those who have bet against you, and the guy you are playing with. Whether it’s the Fantasy (Golf game) or just sports betting, they're going to want to try and alter the result because they will potentially either make or lose money from it."
Dead Solid Perfect
McIIroy hit it perfectly, although it's amazing it took U.S. legalized gambling to bring this issue to light. How no aligning fan has previously disrupted a major golf tournament before in our current disrupted society is beyond explanation. All it would take is one memorable "baba-booey" or poorly timed "you-da-man" at the Masters or British Open to change golf forever. In a way, give thousands and thousands of well-behaved golf fans credit for honoring timeless tradition and not ruining the grand game.
PGA, be 'Fore' Warned
It is most interesting, that the second major body embracing U.S. legalized gambling prior to the reversal of PASPA (the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act) in May 2018 was the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA). After the National Basketball Association (NBA), the PGA jumped to the lobbyist table to endorse U.S. legalized gambling and is currently seeking more casino associations to help build and promote their sport.
Private 'gentleman’s wagers' have long been a part of friendly golf matches. Betting on major tournaments have been promoted by top online sportsbooks like Bovada, BetOnline and 5Dimes for several years. Now new U.S. legalized sportsbooks have jumped on the bandwagon to endorse golf wagering. Not only with tournament odds, but with in-play wagering as well. It is the PGA's hope that legalized sports wagering in the U.S. will help increase their television ratings, bring new people into playing golf and boost their overall financial picture into the future.
The concern here, and as McIIroy and Poulter cleverly forewarned, is that increased wagering is only going to drive a potential problem. Let's see it addressed now, before there is no immediate solution.
And realistically, don't think it will take a potential million-dollar, well-planned scheme to drive a potential catastrophe. All it would take is some doofus having a bad day at William Hill down $200 to scream at Rory, Tiger or Brooks Koepka while tied on the 18th hole at Augusta to begin a script for a great television movie.
Remember, there are no 'mulligans' or do-overs in PGA Golf. Here's hoping the evil incentive of personally winning money doesn't change the rules forever. But like those new extra extended screens to protect baseball fans from getting hurt, I'm betting something gets done soon. Good thing we'll always be allowed to cheer, heckle and scream as loud as we want at golf events…. after a golf swing.
Glenn Greene covers the games from a betting angle every week exclusively at OSGA.com. For weekly betting insights, including previews and picks from Glenn, click here.