Jay Monahan earns around $4 million a year, which easily qualifies him as America’s most well-compensated babysitter. Yet it might barely exceed the hourly minimum wage given all of the extra work the PGA Tour commissioner just created for himself.
On Tuesday, Monahan pointedly reiterated the Tour’s long-standing policy of booting unruly fans from tournaments.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Monahan’s injunction against harassing caddies, volunteers or officials could have been aimed at several guys in the locker room, but his words were intended for the other side of the ropes, and—no matter how often he insisted otherwise—specifically at the gallery following one player. That was clear when the commissioner was asked if the word “Brooksie” might trigger a spectator’s ejection.
“Yes, and the reason I say yes is 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 replied. “That has been going on for an extended period of time. To me, at this point, it’s disrespectful, and that’s kind of behavior that we’re not going to tolerate going forward.”
The gloomy reality of sport is that some folks get their jollies bawling at competitors, offering about as much entertainment to fellow spectators as a shrieking, incontinent drunk might in a crowded subway train. Bryson DeChambeau has been tailed by a herd of such imbeciles since the Memorial Tournament in June, at which he had several fans ejected for the crime of calling him “Brooksie.”
Brooksie—as in Koepka, his antagonist in a juvenile feud that makes one long for the gravitas of Paris Hilton’s spat with Lindsay Lohan—duly offered beer to fans whose day was cut short. Encouraged by free suds and emboldened by their target’s infantile overreaction, the hecklers have shadowed DeChambeau ever since, and it is evidently having a detrimental impact on his well-being. As loathsome as the trolls are, is calling one player by another’s name really cause to evict?
Legally, yes. Jodi Balsam, a professor of sports law at Brooklyn Law School, says legal authority to regulate conduct originates in the terms of the ticket. Balsam herself once authored such terms for the National Football League.
“The League and its teams have almost complete discretion to define what is acceptable and unacceptable conduct, and it is entirely within their discretion to revoke that ticket,” she said.
Armed with similar terms, the PGA Tour has similar discretion to decide what is grounds for ejection. That includes heckling, signage or even wearing t-shirts emblazoned with Brooksie slogans.
As a matter of law, Monahan’s threatened action is defensible. As a matter of enforcement, however, it risks becoming preposterous. How easily, and with how much certainty, can security identify and remove one heckler in a crowd of hundreds? How many spectators is the Tour willing to see ejected on a given day? How many fans will intentionally be tossed to expose the inherent flaws in this approach? And what happens when DeChambeau and Koepka inevitably play together? Must Koepka supporters remain mute for fear of a Pinkerton grabbing them by the collar? The line between fan and troll is blurred beyond reasonable enforcement there.
Policing language is a perilous task, particularly at a sporting event crowded with people to whom one is happily selling beer by the bucketload.
There are legitimate reasons for fans to be removed from tournaments, like endangering the welfare of others, intoxicated belligerence, or attempting to distract players while executing a shot—the latter surely to become an issue as legal gambling grows in golf. These are all reasonable and necessary matters to enforce. But the PGA Tour cannot be in the business of protecting someone’s hurt feelings, and that is the reality it is stumbling toward. Thus so many Tour players openly mocked the idea after Monahan spoke. Like flight attendants, they know its simply unworkable to legislate decent behavior.
There’s no evidence that DeChambeau sought the Tour’s intervention on this matter, and even less reason to believe he will benefit from it. If anything, it might make things worse for him, at least until the cretins finally exhaust their admittedly deep reservoir of witless inanities. It’s easy to understand why Monahan felt the need to threaten consequences. The needling gets under DeChambeau’s skin, and he has shown himself woefully ill-equipped to handle it.
But for all the noble intent behind Monahan’s shift, the onus remains largely on DeChambeau. It would be nice if Koepka asked fans to button it, but that also assumes the hecklers are fans of Brooks rather than just haters of Bryson. DeChambeau needs to develop a thicker skin, an ability to tune out the noise. In that respect, he’s not alone among Tour players. At the 2020 Players Championship, a fan was thrown out for asking a passing Patrick Reed to sign his shovel, a droll reference to Reed’s bunker misadventures in the Bahamas a few months prior. That fan faced greater sanction for his words than Reed did for his actions.
There’s reason to believe that Monahan’s comments today aren’t solely about protecting the image and product of the PGA Tour at the expense of engaging fans. The commissioner hinted that DeChambeau is not in a good place: “He’s working through some things and he’s going to have my and our support as he continues to do so.”
Whatever the underlying issues, DeChambeau can’t seem to help himself in emotionally tough circumstances, his reactions often further inflaming situations. With this vow to boot spectators, the Tour isn’t helping him either. The solution lies not in threatening a few dozen hollering fools, but in helping one man learn to dismiss them for what they are.
Published at Golfweek.com, August 31, 2021.