Sports stars sometime have a curious relationship with the fans who pay good money to watch them do their thing. When it is going well and they are the subject of supporters’ adulation then the connection is rapturous. Screw up and get on the wrong side, or stumble across a crowd with a couple of beers too many on hot day out on the course and earn their displeasure and there is a completely different scenario at play.
Ian Poulter is generally happy to take the rough with the smooth from golfing galleries on either side of the Atlantic. The Englishman is a golfer happy to lap up the adulation of European golf galleries when he is sinking a monster putt to earn a Ryder Cup point and equally willing to stick his head above the parapet and be prepared to have a couple of verbal bullets whistle through his backcombed blonde hairdo when there is blowback to a provocative tweet or a misinterpreted gesture.
So when Poulter complains about unruly behaviour on the course, as he did at Shinnecock Hills over the weekend during the US Open’s visit to New York’s Long Island, you tend to put down your Manhattan, stub out your cigar and sit up and take notice.
This year’s US Open has been nothing if not eventful as befits America’s oldest major returning to the Empire State, a private jet hop away from the city that never sleeps. If the nearby Hamptons are used to summers populated by a weird mix of understated old money opulence and celebrity bling and bragadocio then a visit by the country’s most establishment tournament to New York’s favourite vacation playground is sure to attract a similarly dissonant crowd.
There is precedent, as Sergio Garcia will tell you if you asked the Spaniard about the grief that came his way from the galleries at Bethpage Black when the US Open visited the nearby municipal course back in 2002.
For while they call them patrons at Augusta National when the Georgian golf course hosts the Masters every year, when a US Open makes its periodic visit to New York, there is no better description of the attendees than “crowd” and Poulter had plenty of opinions to offer about the element that he accused of heckling him on every hole.
This is not a new phenomenon for elite golfers on Long Island subjected to the brash viewpoints of a city crowd reared on watching the Yankees and Mets, Islanders and Knicks. Not for no reason is a “Bronx cheer” the local vernacular for blowing a raspberry.
That cheeky chappy Poulter, the darling of European Ryder Cup fans over the past decade for his heroics in sticking it to the Yanks, was on the sharp end of some vociferous New York verbals at Shinnecock over the weekend as his bid for the US Open took a downward turn. He was particularly aggrieved by the joyous rendition of “USA! USA!” that greeted his bogey at the 16th hole during his third round of 76 on Saturday and took to Twitter to ponder that this might make for a feisty 2024 Ryder Cup when Europe and the United States are set to collide on Long Island at nearby Bethpage Black.
“Verbally abused on every hole does get a little old,” began the tweet from @IanJamesPoulter. “That’s not really golf either. Ryder Cup in 2024 COULD become a little silly, just like today was.”
It would be fair to say that Poulter was by that stage already a little ticked off with the US Open organisers at the USGA for their admission that they had messed up yet again with the tournament set-up at Shinnecock Hills, for in the same tweet he continued: “Still we never hear the word SORRY. When I F@&$ up I have to apologise. Not the @USGA”
USGA chief executive Mike Davis had earlier admitted that the governing body he leads had once again made some miscalculations in setting up Shinnecock for the US Open, just as hit done on its last visit to the swanky links-style course out east in 2004 when even good putts came a cropper on dried out greens, rendering it an unfair challenge in a tournament which prides itself on providing gold’s “ultimate test.”
“There were some aspects today where well executed shots were not rewarded,” Davis had said. “We missed it with the wind. We don’t want that. The firmness was ok but it was too much with the wind we had. It was probably too tough this afternoon – a tale of 2 courses”
Davis also said: “It got too tough today in some areas. If we got a mulligan, we would have slowed the greens down this afternoon. Confident we can slow the golf course down going into tomorrow.”
“Is that an apology?” asked @IanJamesPoulter. “Just grow a set of balls and say we £€¥#ed it up again… You don’t get mulligans in business at this level. how can this team keep doing this without consequences.”
Poulter was not alone in lambasting the Shinnecock set-up with withering comments also from Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello and England’s Tyrell Hatton. Yet Poulter was the fella who copped the heckling and one can only share his fears for a raucous affair when the Ryder Cup follows the US Open to Long Island and pitches up at Bethpage Black.
When the PGA Tour visited the notoriously tough course for a FedEx Cup play-off series event The Barclays in 2016, one golfer rather ominously called the New Yorks crowds “rude and obnoxious” and he was an American.
Why ominous? His name was Patrick Reed, 2018 Masters champion and Ryder Cup Captain America.
Lord help us.