Justin Thomas Expects Fan Behavior

Thomas Wins the Honda in Extra Holes, With an Added Fan Burden

Justin Thomas is having a very good year. Out of the last thirty-one starts, he has won seven tournaments. That’s a win between every fourth or fifth start. This week, he won the Honda Classic, and it wasn’t an easy win, taking it down to the wire. However, there was an added anxiety to his feat, one that he shouldn’t have had to deal with at all. As it happened, he dealt with it quite nicely, but the trend toward what used to be inappropriate behavior in the gallery is growing more common.

What the fan in question was saying wasn’t essentially important, except that it was negative.
A steady stream of it must be infuriating to the golfer who is in or close to the lead (or anywhere else on the leader board, actually). The nature of the negativity was a verbal assault on the golfer’s next shot, the one not taken yet. I don’t know how it works in other countries, but in the U.S., we have begun to morph into a reality where all sports are the same, played in the same fan atmosphere. Many have developed a disgust for anything that is serene, polite, mutually admiring, or quiet at certain times. Not everything we do for recreation has to be that way, but we have traditionally reserved those qualities for the golf course.
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Those who grew up playing golf with our families learned a code of behavior as well as the physical manner of hitting a golf ball. We were told when to let a fellow player concentrate, to compliment great shots, no matter who they belonged to, and to preserve a modicum of respect between competitors, whether the stakes were high or non-existent.  We were adult men and women in training. If any of the lessons from that era, and the ones preceding it, are still valid, why would one follow a professional golfer around and break every tradition we ever learned as a fan? These are the people who play the game better than anyone else we have ever met. They concentrate in a way most of us do not. They are more well-versed in the decorum between players than anyone, with the occasional flub. Each player holds up his or her little corner of the game so that the standard across the collective is high. No, it’s not fake. It feels good not to be raunchy, undisciplined, and governed solely by urges.  It feels good to consider whether to say something, and end up not saying it instead of doing what my mother called “gravity feed” – if it’s in the brain, it falls to the mouth.

As a culture, my country is rude in its politics, at the football stadium, baseball park, and boxing ring.  We are increasingly rude to food servers who are dead on their feet, or people who don’t respond quickly enough from behind the counter, or don’t give us exactly what we want. The crass release of being a fan is acceptable in some sports, I’m sorry to say, because it often gets too rough for children to attend. The average fan has forgotten, and must relearn that there are different codes for different places. They are not all the same.
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I was surprised to see that Justin Thomas had to request that the offending fan be removed. I would think that officials would be present monitoring such behavior, and put a stop to sudden noises on back swings or insults meant to rattle a competitor. I haven’t witnessed it up close yet, but I worry about LPGA players who experience a real problem male fan in the gallery.

There are only a few places in society where we can go for the atmosphere golf can create, and it isn’t always possible to hike into the back country to find it. I want the problem fan to give me back that experience, and if he or she won’t, let him or her be taken out before the golfer has to say anything.

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