Fan conduct a hot topic at Tour Championship

Billy Horschel and the golf fans of Atlanta have had a special relationship since 2014, when he stood upon the 18th green after winning the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup at East Lake happily performing the Florida Gator chomp.

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“All week I had been hearing ‘Go Dawgs’ and a Gator won in their territory,” recalled the one-time collegiate player at Florida. “And I just needed to let them know that a Gator was victorious in Dawg-land.”

It was all in good fun, everyone had a laugh and moved on.

On the heels of some less good-natured interaction recently between a few spectators and Bryson DeChambeau, the topic of fan-player relations has flared up prior to this week’s Tour Championship. PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan emphasized the need for fans to behave themselves during his Tuesday presser. And Horschel sought out the media this week to express his concern for maintaining a healthy rapport between the players and the gallery.

“We need to get back to a little more civility and be respectful a little bit,” Horschel said this week. “We’re not saying you have to be buttoned up, tied down, don’t say a word, get a little golf clap going. We’re just saying, hey, take a step back. We all know we want to be a part of this competition one way or another but let’s not do anything that could affect someone in a negative way.”

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Horschel said he didn’t agree with Monahan on every point the commissioner raised Tuesday. Such as the threat of ushering fans off the course for what has become a common jab: Shouting out the name of Brooks Koepka in the presence of DeChambeau (the two have engaged in an often petty feud). He thought that an overreaction. But he does think it time for a general reassessment of what’s proper fan behavior and what’s over the line.

He’s certainly not the only one with concerns.

“I think certain other sports culture has fed into our game and fed into the fan base that’s definitely affected it,” Rory McIlroy said Wednesday. “People will make the argument that, well, it happens in every other sport. But I would say that we’re not any other sport and I think golf should hold itself to a higher standard. The players are certainly held to a higher standard than other sports, so why wouldn’t our fan base be?”

Credit: Julio Cortez

Credit: Julio Cortez

DeChambeau reportedly turned on one heckler after losing a playoff to Patrick Cantlay Sunday, hurling a popular F-themed profanity his way. That’s happened to Horschel, too. In New Orleans in 2019, he cussed at a fan who yelled, “Get in the water!” after Horschel hit to a par 3.

“It has been coming on for a few years, fans have been a little more boisterous, saying a few more things here and there, they feel a little more empowered,” Horschel said. “Do I think we’re at a tipping point? No, but I don’t think you ever want to get to that tipping point because then you’re behind the eight-ball. You want to be proactive, ahead of where that tipping point is.”

Horschel hated playing without fans during the pandemic, and sorely missed the energy they provided. He plugs into the fans’ vibe and feed off it, he said. But there’s the miniscule minority that is making that more difficult.

“That 1% is taking it a little too far,” he said. “If we can do a little better job of educating these fans, show them what isn’t right. Maybe we all can be a little more cordial — not even just around the golf course, but in general life itself.”