Rory McIlroy ‘sad to see’ fan behaviour towards Bryson DeChambeau

Rory McIlroy has offered public support to the much-maligned Bryson DeChambeau, saying it is “sad to see” widespread criticism of the American golfer.

Comments aimed at DeChambeau have prompted the PGA Tour this week to warn spectators they will be ejected from venues should they disrespect the Californian. DeChambeau is known to have been wounded by recurring controversy linked to his recent withdrawal from regular appearances before the media.

This year DeChambeau has split from his caddie, been embroiled in a public spat with Brooks Koepka, rebuked for regularly not shouting “fore”, had an outburst at his Cobra driver branded “like an eight‑year‑old” by the equipment manufacturer, missed the Olympics after contracting coronavirus and was then castigated for not taking a Covid vaccine. Galleries have been quick to focus on the Koepka issue in particular. McIlroy, while careful not to portray DeChambeau as angelic, has now offered rare backing to the 27-year-old.

“I certainly feel some sympathy for him because I certainly don’t think that you should be ostracised or criticised for being different,” McIlroy said. “I think we have all known from the start that Bryson is different and he is not going to conform to the way people want him to be. He is his own person. He thinks his own thoughts and everyone has a right to do that.

“There are certainly things that he has done in the past that have brought some of this stuff on himself. But at the same time I think he has been getting a pretty rough go of it of late and it’s actually pretty sad to see because he, deep down, I think, is a nice person.

“All he wants to do is try to be the best golfer he can be. And it just seems like every week something else happens and I would say it’s pretty tough to be Bryson DeChambeau right now.

“I don’t know if anyone else on tour has spoken up for him but I definitely feel for him a little bit. I don’t think he’s completely blameless in all this, but at the same time I think he’s trying to become better and he’s trying to learn from his mistakes and I think everyone should give him a chance to try to do that.”

McIlroy endorsed the Tour’s decision to be more firm on fan behaviour. An immediate test of the updated policy will arrive this weekend in Atlanta, where 30 of the finest players in the world – including DeChambeau – compete at the Tour Championship. A first prize of $15m (£10.9m) is on offer at East Lake.

“I think some of it crosses the line,” McIlroy said.

“I think certain other sports’ culture has fed into our game and fed into the fanbase. People will make the argument that: ‘Well, it happens in every other sport.’ But I would say that we’re not any other sport and I think golf should hold itself to a higher standard. The players are certainly held to a higher standard than other sports, so why wouldn’t our fanbase be?

“There’s no room in golf for people to abuse someone on the golf course when all they’re trying to do is do their best and win a golf tournament and follow their dreams. There’s no place for that in our game.”

Collin Morikawa also supports the Tour’s stance. “I heard some things last week [at the BMW Championship] – I’m not going to say what – that were just inappropriate and it wasn’t right,” the Open champion said. “Our game is about respect. I get it, the world is changing but that does not mean you can just go out and start saying anything you want.”

Phil Mickelson, meanwhile, has been named as an assistant captain for the US team in this month’s Ryder Cup. The 51-year-old’s back-room role confirms his playing involvement will end at 12 appearances. “I’m humbled and honoured,” said Mickelson. Fred Couples will also take on vice-captaincy duties for Steve Stricker at Whistling Straits.