The confrontation between Bryson DeChambeau and an oiled-up heckler Sunday at the BMW Championship was only noteworthy for DeChambeau’s response in the heat of the moment. He’s been called “Brooksie” any number of times in the last few months during his tug-of-war with Brooks Koepka.
But PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan has drawn a line in the sand and is daring anyone to cross it. Yelling “Brooksie” at DeChambeau or other as-yet-to-be-named insults could get you tossed from a Tour event. He said so in a meeting with the media at this week’s Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
The DeChambeau dust-up was far from the first and lord knows when the last will come. Monahan’s response was to announce a revised “code of conduct” for spectators at Tour events. However, if he believes that a gentle admonition is going to solve this rapidly growing problem, he’s more naïve than anyone might have imagined.
“By coming to a PGA Tour event, you’re expected to contribute to a welcoming and safe environment by refraining from and reporting any unsafe, disruptive, or harassing behavior,” Monahan said Tuesday. “Comments or gestures that undermine the inclusive and welcoming nature of the game will not be tolerated, nor will any harassment of players, caddies, volunteers, officials, staff, or other spectators.
“Fans who breach our code of conduct are subject to expulsion from the tournament and loss of their credential or ticket.”
Before Monahan laid out this toilet-paper thin effort, he should have taken a serious look at the Tour’s culpability in this issue. If the PGA Tour didn’t create the problem, without question it fed an atmosphere in which this kind of behavior flourished by looking the other way and pretending not to notice a fire had started.
Take a look, if you will, at the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and call it exactly what it is: a loud and rowdy alcohol-fueled party in the middle of a championship golf tournament. The Tour not only tacitly approves but quietly encourages it. And the reasons are plainly obvious: Attendance, television ratings, social media activity — all generates revenue for the Tour and its partners. It’s why Monahan is the current commissioner. He knows how to make money for everyone.
What’s sacrificed, however, is the civility that Monahan preached out of the other side of his mouth on Tuesday. The argument is that Phoenix is once a year and is merely a novelty. But fans take their cues where they choose and if Phoenix fans have permission to get loud and raise hell, then people in Baltimore and Tampa and Dallas do, too.
The elephant in the room is alcohol. Fans at most PGA Tour events have unfettered and unlimited access to alcohol and no one should argue at all that incidents such as the one DeChambeau found himself in have a boozy belligerence at their source. However, alcohol sales at Tour events generate a tidy profit, which is always tournaments’ deal with the devil.
If Monahan was serious about curbing boorish behavior, he’d find a way to limit and control alcohol sales and consumption. On the surface, it sounds a near impossibility. Fans aren’t confined to seats in a stadium and freely roam around the grounds with zero effective ways to monitor someone’s drinking.
Any method you could think of has the ability to be circumvented by resourceful drinkers. So, the only real solution is to ban alcohol sales altogether and virtually no one has a thirst for that.
Unless the Tour would make an equally drastic move. One of the conditions that make unruly fans yelling at players such a disruptive situation is the in-your-face proximity of spectators and competitors. It is and has been one of the great charms of watching professional golf in person.
However, perhaps that time has come and gone. Other major sports control their crowds by keeping them in a confined, manageable space. Golf could do the same by putting up more grandstands and roped off areas in which fans are confined — a couple hundred yards away from the players. But there’s no appetite to radically change the fundamental and traditional way golf is viewed.
Then, maybe the way Monahan deals with players requires a radical shift. Players have always been viewed as independent contractors, a delightfully archaic concept. With hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, Monahan must add “Boss” to his job description. When the Koepka-DeChambeau feud was bubbling to a boil and Koepka tweeted to his followers that he’d buy them beer if they yelled “Brooksie,” Monahan could have ground this out under his heel by meeting with both players at a tournament site and insisting they end it immediately in a public forum and insist their followers do the same.
Instead, he gave them a wink and a nod, in essence buying Koepka’s big lie that this snit was growing the game when, in fact, all it accomplished was to drive up social media traffic for the players and all the media who repeatedly fed their news cycles with the latest from the verbal brawl. And social media is an indictable co-conspirator by giving permission to thousands to call other people any flavor of nasty name that makes them feel powerful. Or something.
Now, Monahan has decided he’s had enough. To a point.
“When you hear ‘Brooksie’ yelled or you hear any expression yelled, the question is, is that respectful or disrespectful?” Monahan said Tuesday. “At this point, it’s disrespectful, and that’s the kind of behavior that we’re not going to tolerate going forward.”
This is not exactly a forest fire but it could burst beyond control if Monahan doesn’t use something more than a squirt gun to extinguish these flames.