Rory McIlroy fears legalising conventional gambling in the US may increase the number of fan heckling from outside the ropes at Tour events.
McIlroy was speaking in the wake of Ian Poulter’s comments after a spat with a fan on the final hole of his first round at last month’s WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational in Memphis.
Poulter bemoaned the fact that golf hasn’t taken a firmer grip of “idiots” who spoil the fun for everyone else on Tour — including the players.
“It is a shame,” Poulter said. “I hope going forward we can control it more and more and it gets stamped out. It is not needed in the game of golf.”
Appearing on The Golf Channel’s Rory and Carson podcast, McIlroy said that in any sport there’s always going to be the fan who’s rooting against you. But he fears that the introduction of legalised gambling in the US may
exacerbate incidents like what Poulter experienced.
“(Fans) are there to enjoy the show, not be part of the show,” said McIlroy.
Some of the high-profile (golfers) might have a police officer or two inside the ropes, and then there’s the usual law enforcement outside the ropes making sure everyone is fine and not getting too drunk or obnoxious.
“But it is part of sport that people are going to root against you, people who don’t want you to win for whatever reason, whether they put money on the other guy.
“And I think that’s going to be one of the big things about golf and legalising sports betting in this country. What is going to happen is you will see more of this (heckling) stuff occurring because there are going to be those who have bet against you, and the guy you are playing with. Whether it’s the Fantasy (Golf game) or just sports betting, they’re going to want to try and alter the result because they will potentially either make or lose money from it.”
Poulter told Sky Sports: “(Some guys) want to feel big in front of their friends and they scream silly things out, it is disappointing. Most of the time we just ignore it and let it go, but it is a real shame. It is just disappointing.”
Meanwhile, McIlroy also spoke on the podcast about his friendship with former Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn and his admiration for the Dane speaking publicly about his mental health issues.
McIlroy said he is “really close” to Bjorn, but it wasn’t always so after getting off on the wrong foot over a decade ago. “I would have described him as volatile before, he had his good days and his bad days. On his bad days, you wanted to be nowhere near him. My first experience was a bad one: The Madrid Masters in 2007, my third tournament as a pro. I was a naive, oblivious 18-year-old trying to get my Tour card, and on the second day, I was in his sightlines a few times and he was having a bad day.
But the next week in Portugal, he came up to me on the putting green and apologised, and said he was being a dick. Ever since we have been really close, Thomas was at my wedding, we have a great relationship. He is a big man and burly, but so soft. If he likes you, you are a friend for life.
“It is taboo to talk about certain stuff, whether it’s job or your life in general, so how much better does it feel when you get it out. For Thomas to do that, it takes great courage.”
While his more recent Masters or Portrush meltdowns might spring to mind, McIlroy dug deeper into his past when asked what one shot he’d like a mulligan on.
“My second-to-the-last hole of the European Masters in Switzerland in 2008. I had a one-shot lead, I had never won as a pro. I hit a sand wedge over the back, 95 yards, didn’t get up and down, and lost the play-off.
“Twelve years later, I find myself in the shower, thinking back to that. It wasn’t a huge event, but I find myself still thinking back to it. Just hit the middle of the green two putts and get out of there.”