ATLANTA — A Tour Championship crowd at East Lake Golf Club will never be confused with a gallery at the Waste Management Open in Phoenix, but on this particular Thursday, the scene could have been mistaken for a solitary stroll in a park.
Two days after the PGA Tour commissioner, Jay Monahan, issued a no-tolerance policy for the “disrespectful” outbursts that have haunted Bryson DeChambeau all summer, the crowds following the penultimate twosome around East Lake during the first round minded their manners. People were reluctant to shout out Bryson’s real name, much less a derisive “Brooksie!” — his rival on the PGA Tour is Brooks Koepka — especially with two DeKalb County sheriff’s deputies and three PGA Tour security officials shadowing him around the course.
The peace and quiet did little to lift DeChambeau as he dropped a stroke to his playing partner, Jon Rahm, on each of the first four holes. But he rallied with three consecutive birdies and finished with a one-under-par 69, tied for third with Harris English and five shots behind the leader, Patrick Cantlay, and three behind Rahm.
Over the summer, DeChambeau has become the most divisive player in golf. After tossing away a share of the lead with a back-nine 44 at the United States Open at Torrey Pines and shrugging it off as “bad luck,” his relationship with the news media began to sour. He angered his equipment sponsor, Cobra, with harsh criticism of his driver. He denied, despite video evidence, that he had repeatedly failed to shout “Fore!” on errant drives into galleries. And then he delivered a curious explanation for refusing to get vaccinated and missing the Olympics after testing positive for Covid-19.
In response to the criticism, DeChambeau will talk only to news outlets that are PGA Tour partners. At the same time, the fallout from his long-running feud with Koepka has generated taunts of “Brooksie!” everywhere DeChambeau has gone, making life miserable for him between the ropes. The situation boiled over last week at the BMW Championship at Caves Valley, where DeChambeau reportedly confronted a heckler who had shouted, “Nice job, Brooksie!” at him after he lost a thrilling six-hole playoff to Cantlay.
On Tuesday, DeChambeau spoke to the Golf Channel’s Todd Lewis and admitted that the “Brooksie!” heckles were “another variable that I have to take account for.”
Like wind direction or the grain of the greens.
Monahan doesn’t think it should be a variable, and on Tuesday, he announced a new fan behavior policy under which “disrespectful” shouts directed at players would not be tolerated and could result in fans’ being removed from the course.
“The barometer that we are all using is the word ‘respect,’ and to me, when you hear ‘Brooksie’ yelled or you hear any expression yelled, the question is, is that respectful or disrespectful?” Monahan said. “That has been going on for an extended period of time. To me, at this point, it’s disrespectful, and that’s the kind of behavior that we’re not going to tolerate going forward.”
Several tour players, including Rory McIlroy and Cantlay, defended DeChambeau.
“I certainly feel some sympathy for him, because I certainly don’t think that you should be ostracized or criticized for being different — and I think we have all known from the start that Bryson is different and he is not going to conform to the way people want him to be,” McIlroy said. “He is his own person. He thinks his own thoughts, and everyone has a right to do that.”
He added: “There are certainly things that he has done in the past that have brought some of this stuff on himself. I’m not saying that he’s completely blameless in this. But at the same time, I think he has been getting a pretty rough go of it of late, and it’s actually pretty sad to see, because he — deep down, I think — is a nice person, and all he wants to do is try to be the best golfer he can be. And it just seems like every week, something else happens, and I would say it’s pretty tough to be Bryson DeChambeau right now.”
DeChambeau tried to downplay the impact of what some have labeled harassment on the course.
“I can take heat — I’ve taken heat my whole entire life,” he told the Golf Channel. “And it’s because I’m a little different, and I understand that. And I appreciate that, too. No matter what, if you’re a little different — whether it’s Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos or whoever it is — there’s always going to be heat, and I recognize that, and I respect that.”
He added: “At the end of the day, people are going to say things they’re going to say because they have the right to do so. It’s been going on for months now. Everybody has their own limits, and everybody has their own tipping points and whatnot. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of realizing: ‘You know what? I’m going to let that fuel me in a positive way.’”
McIlroy, the current chairman of the PGA Tour’s Player Advisory Council, supports the commissioner’s crackdown on fan behavior.
“There’s no room in golf for people to abuse someone on the golf course when all they’re trying to do is do their best and win a golf tournament and follow their dreams,” McIlroy said. “So there’s no place for that in our game. And that might sound a little stiff or snobby or whatever, but that’s golf, and we have traditions.”
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