Wrong time, Wrong event

Note to American fans: Save the "U-S-A" chants for international competitions

May 21, 2023

Darren Carroll/PGA of America

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — A key facet of the PGA Championship, and indeed almost every golf tournament up to and including all four men’s majors, is that they are individual competitions. No matter what happens on Sunday at Oak Hill, for instance, we will not be crowning any nation as the winner. America cannot win the Wanamaker Trophy. Nor can Britain. Nor can Botswana, Mongolia or the former Soviet Union. Only a single human being can win.

This, I hope, is common knowledge, but it might be news to a handful of fans on the 18th hole Saturday afternoon who decided that Canada's Corey Conners missing a birdie putt was the perfect time to demonstrate their, uh, patriotism:

It's always been considered rude to cheer the failure of any single player in golf, and while I won't judge what anyone does in the privacy of their own homes, I will submit that a collective chant of "U-S-A" as a way to celebrate the individual failure of a Canadian who seems like a nice enough guy is particularly gross.

Look, it's never comfortable to write from the moral high ground, or to risk sounding like a prude. But I also don't think it's especially puritanical to ask that we save our nationalistic chants for competitions in which there's an actual national team, like the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup. Then, have at it! We love a good U-S-A chant, even if it follows a mistake by the other guys! And in terms of who you're rooting for in an event like the PGA Championship, I'm not here to police anyone; if you'd prefer an American win when push comes to shove, that's just fine. I get it. But please, let's stop short of malicious chants after mistakes by foreign players that telegraph an unfriendly sentiment: "You are not welcome." Alcohol-fueled as they may be, they're mean and hostile, they dehumanize the player, and they don't belong in golf or any other sport.

Clearly, the Conners incident on Saturday was limited to certain fans, but this is not new. Conners himself has been subjected to it before, at Bay Hill in 2018, leading golfers like Eddie Pepperell to close their eyes and imagine (with some pleasure) the demise of our entire nation:

Anyone who watched Matt Fitzpatrick's “Full Swing episode on Netflix knows that he faced plenty of the same in winning the U.S. Open at Brookline last year, where scattered "U-S-A" chants and some even more on-the-nose heckles followed him around the course. Earlier on Sunday morning from Oak Hill, ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski narrated a feature about Mito Pereira's errant drive on 18 that cost him the 2022 PGA Championship. In it, Pereira's caddie, Scott McGuinness, spoke through tears about how the crowd rode him the entire day, chanting "U-S-A", promising him he was going to choke, and then cheering when his infamous drive found the water. Even at Ryder Cups, when a good "U-S-A" chant is fair game, players like Rory McIlroy who are normally beloved in America have been subject to really vile comments by U.S. fans caught up in their nationalism.

Anyone who has been out on the course at a PGA Tour event or a major knows that while this may be isolated to a handful of fans, it's not an isolated phenomenon; it keeps happening. To put it mildly, there's no need for it; pride in your country is great, rooting for your countrymen is great, and reveling in the victories of those countrymen is also great. But when that fervor crosses over into cheering the failures of an outsider, especially in an individual sport like golf that runs on respect, it gets ugly and embarrassing. So love America, by all means, but do the rest of us a favor and save the overt nationalism for when America is actually competing.