The reception Danny Willett received at Hazeltine went about as expected, which is to say awful
CHASKA, Minn. — On Friday, American fans made Danny Willett pay for the sins of his brother.
Masters champion Danny Willett has been forced to spend the majority of his first Ryder Cup week telling anyone who will listen that:
A) He didn't write an essay in which he described Americans as "pudgy, basement-dwelling irritants, stuffed on cookie dough and pissy beer, pausing between mouthfuls of hotdog so they can scream ‘Baba booey’ until their jelly faces turn red." That was his brother, Pete.
B) He doesn't endorse his brother's words.
C) He really, really wishes his brother hadn't written those words.
D) He likes Americans.
This unplanned damage control went about as well as you'd expect among American fans in Willett's first match this afternoon. The U.S. hordes seem to have retained the information that his brother wrote the essay, but, seeing no brother on whom to avenge themselves, were content to ignore the nuance in this story and take out their rage on Danny, as he and Martin Kaymer were blown away by Brandt Snedeker and an unconscious Brooks Koepka in four-balls.
Curious to see what sort of abuse he'd take, I caught up with Willett on the ninth hole. Already, stories had begun to circulate—when Bubba Watson chastised a fan for making a crack about Willett's brother, the fan told Bubba to "grow a f***ing pair." There was also a woman whose hot-dog-themed vitriol was so intense that even the partisan crowd turned on her, and I heard a story that I can't begin to confirm and that should be treated as apocryphal, about a fan telling Willett's mother that her son "sucked."
"He didn't say it!" she protested. "That was his brother!"
"His brother is still your son!" came the response.
When I made the scene on the ninth, I spent the next six holes writing down every insult I heard. The main thing to understand is that almost none of them were remotely funny or clever. I laughed exactly once, on the very last hole of the match, when a fan behind the 14th green waited for a moment of silence to deliver a message of sympathy:
"It's alright, Danny. ... I've got a brother I don't like either."
Most of the rest was extremely boring. If you really want a reason to hate Pete Willett, it's this: His essay incentivized about 4,000 comedians at Hazeltine to shout "Bah-Bah-Booey," which is easily the most annoying golf-fan affectation and which really, really did not need to be resuscitated. The crowd at the ninth green even started a Bah-Bah-Booey chant that they felt the need to rehearse long before Willett arrived. So many fans shouted things about hot dogs that I'm starting to believe that was the most offensive part of the essay, while others called Danny "Pete" and chanted "U-S-A" at him. One proudly stated that he was a "pissy-beer drinker." Nobody said anything about cookie dough, at least that I heard, and that was disappointing.
Some of the remarks, I have to admit, lacked wit and tact, and descended into base cruelty. "Your brother really f***ed you up," said one helpful onlooker in the roped-off walkway between the 12th and 13th hole. Some simply seemed curious: "Danny, what's up with your brother, man?" And one semi-intoxicated fan watching from alongside the 10th fairway, standing amid a group of friends, was incredulous that they were about to miss a golden opportunity. "He's right there," he said, indicating Willett, "and nobody's going to say anything about his brother?"
(For what it's worth, the funniest hecklers didn't even bring up his brother. When Willett had to follow a Koepka bomb on the 12th tee with his own, much shorter drive, a fan paid him the ultimate compliment: "Nice 7-iron." Another made a pitch-perfect Michael Jackson "ee-hee" sound after a Willett drive, which made no sense but was still funny. And yet another accused Willett of hating the late gorilla Harambe.)
For his part, Willett did his best to look unaffected. He even managed to laugh with Kaymer and his caddie a few times, and he never seemed overly stressed. But there's no question that the entire incident has cast a shadow over his first Ryder Cup, and becoming a casualty of the Koepka pyrotechnic attack didn't help. There's time for things to change, but for now this whole ridiculous, overblown controversy has ruined his week. Willett hasn't asked for our sympathy—not once—but on Friday afternoon, it was hard not to feel it anyway. Life is unfair, even for the blessed.