2014 U.S. Open: When Did American Golf Fans Lose Their Manners?

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistJune 16, 2014

Martin Kaymer, of Germany, poses with the trophy after wining the U.S. Open golf tournament in Pinehurst, N.C., Sunday, June 15, 2014.  (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Eric Gay/Associated Press

If you are one of the 90 percent of U.S. Open patrons that were model golf fans over the weekend at Pinehurst, please do not continue reading this article.

However, if you are one of the 10 percent of U.S. Open patrons that were chanting “U.S.A.” all weekend, were cheering Martin Kaymer’s bad shots and were purposely failing to acknowledge Kaymer’s great shots then I implore you to continue reading.

As an American, I am proud to say that American golf fans—particularly fans attending the three major championships held on American soil—have generally been amongst the most knowledgeable, courteous and polite golf fans in the world.

Of course, like any fan base, we have had some regrettable moments. Such as when fans at the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage ridiculed Sergio Garcia to no end for being slow to pull the trigger when standing over the ball.

Fans at the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot referring to Colin Montgomerie as Mrs. Doubtfire was also not one of our finer moments.

But, hey, that was New York.

These are the same sports fans that have booed players such as Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, Joe Namath, Eli Manning, Patrick Ewing and even their beloved Derek Jeter.

So, whether you are attending a playoff game at Yankee Stadium or a U.S. Open at historic Winged Foot, as embarrassing as it may be to those of us that consider ourselves pure golf fans, we have grown to expect at least some of this inappropriate behavior when in the greater New York area.

However, this type of behavior seems to have expanded to other cities and other big golf tournaments held here on American soil.

And what is particularly concerning is that this type of jeering appears to be directly targeted at international players in the field.

If you have closely followed golf for any period of time you will know that Kaymer is one of the true gentlemen in the game.

He is polite almost to a fault.

He always makes time for fans and the media.

He is one of the more honest athletes you will ever see in the media center.

And, although Kaymer hails from Germany, he has made a strong effort to fit in on this side of the pond. Kaymer speaks fluent English, spends much of his time at his home in Arizona and holds dual membership to both the European and PGA Tours.

Here in America we are fortunate enough to host three out of the four major championships—with an emphasis on the word “host.”

While the Augusta National Golf Club, USGA and PGA of America organize the three major championships held on U.S. soil, we the fans are the true hosts of these events, and it is disheartening to say that we have not been very gracious hosts in recent years. Particularly at the last two big events held in America—the Players Championship and the U.S. Open.

Kaymer held a one stroke lead heading into round three at the Players Championship while he jumped to a six stroke lead through 36 holes at the U.S. Open after posting back-to-back rounds of 65 at Pinehurst No. 2.

Kaymer was paired with 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, who many American golf fans are hoping will be our next great player, during the final two rounds of the Players Championship.

During the third round of the U.S. Open, Kaymer was paired with American Brandon Todd, and during the final round of the U.S. Open, Kaymer was paired with 25-year-old Rickie Fowler, another American darling whom many of us American golf fans would like to see win a major championship.

It is understandable that many American fans would hold a bias toward American born players such as Spieth and Fowler when they are paired with an international player such as Kaymer, but there is a big difference between pulling for a local favorite and creating a Ryder Cup atmosphere at a major championship.

Throughout much of the final round of the Players Championship, chants of “U.S.A.” could be heard around the golf course, and a good portion of fans made it abundantly clear who they were pulling for based on some of the comments that flew Kaymer’s way during his 18-hole walk around TPC Sawgrass.

Things seemed to regress even further last weekend at the 114th U.S. Open at Pinehurst.

From the moment that Kaymer stepped out of the players locker room on Saturday it was as if he had just walked into Fenway Park wearing a New York Yankees jersey.

Chants of “U.S.A” began before Kaymer even made it to the first tee on Saturday and could be heard throughout the golf course all weekend long.

One patron decided to purposely yell out just before Kaymer was about to strike a putt on the 15th hole on Saturday.

Fans cheered when Kaymer hit his approach shot clear over the green on the second hole on Sunday.

One fan even yelled out "Yes!" when Kaymer missed a birdie putt on the fifth hole during the final round.

Kaymer stepped onto the 12th tee on Sunday holding a six-stroke lead, piped his tee shot right down the middle of the fairway and walked off the tee to nothing more than a few quiet, reluctant claps.

Throughout most of Sunday afternoon, in fact, Kaymer appeared to receive either reluctant cheers or no cheers at all for what could only be described as one of the greatest four day displays of golf ever seen at a U.S. Open.

It is, of course, reasonable that many fans wanted to see an American born player win their national Open, or at least see a closer tournament heading down the stretch.

It must also be said that at least 90 percent of patrons at Pinehurst No. 2 were courteous and polite for most of the weekend.

However, there is no place in golf for those 10 percent of fans that decided to turn last week’s U.S. Open into an us against them Ryder Cup event.

The U.S. Open is NOT the Ryder Cup.

While the professional game evolved on a grand stage in America between the 1920s and '70s, golf has become a much more global game during the past 20 years.

Nearly half of the field at the 2014 U.S. Open was comprised of international players—which has become common place in a sport that is no longer enjoyed by primarily Americans and the British.

13 of the last 26 major champions have been foreign born golfers.

Eight of the last 11 U.S. Open Champions have been non-Americans.

Tiger Woods masked some of this evolution throughout the late 1990s to 2008, but if you exclude the majors that Woods has won since 2000, foreign born golfers have won more than half of the other majors.

While some Americans may yearn for the days of American dominance in professional golf, this global evolution is not a bad thing for the game.

We now have an exciting mix of players from literally every corner of the earth.

The level of play has drastically improved in recent years as larger numbers of people from around the world have begun participating in the game.

This global expansion has also been necessary for the general health of the game because the number of active golfers in America have declined dramatically in recent years—along with television ratings for every event that Woods does not attend.

And even if you are incredibly patriotic and absolutely desperate for Americans to win every sporting event we take part in, this is simply a new reality that you have no choice but to accept.

As an American golf fan, I was embarrassed at what transpired at the Players Championship and particularly last week at the 114th U.S. Open.

As American golf fans, we are better than cheering when a player hits a bad shot.

We are better than yelling out when a player is about to strike a putt.

And most importantly, we are better than making a player feel as if he is at a competitive disadvantage or simply not welcome at one of the three major championships that we are fortunate enough to host.

Kaymer stood up in front of the audience during the trophy presentation ceremony on Sunday night and thanked the fans for being “fair.”

But based on the behavior of at least a portion of the patrons on Sunday afternoon at Pinehurst, it was clear that Kaymer was simply being a polite guest and the bigger man with this statement.

History has never looked kindly upon those that have failed to evolve with the changing times.

Here in America we are the hosts of three out of the four most prestigious events in the game of golf.

It’s time we start acting like hosts and stop this partisan behavior targeted at making international golfers feel unwelcome at the major championships we are fortunate enough to host on American soil.

And if as a golf fan you can’t handle this, please do us all a favor and stay home and watch the events on television from now on…oh, and if you could bring the “get in the hole!” guy along with you, that would also be greatly appreciated.


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