Rory McIlroy has warned that golf could be facing a “slippery slope”, with players increasingly influencing the game at events.
Two people were kicked out of the BMW Championship in Illinois last weekend after yelling at Max Homa while standing over a putt.
The pair’s remarks reportedly related to a bet between friends, with the growing popularity of sports betting in the United States, where most high-profile golf events are held, meaning that incidents of this nature are becoming more and more frequent.
“We hear it every single round,” said Jon Rahm, winner of the Masters earlier this yearr. “It happens a lot more often than you might hear. I mean, it’s very, very present.”
McIlroy, speaking ahead of Tour Championship in Georgia, confirmed that the topic had been discussed at PGA Tour board level, and warned that the sport needs to be careful given the proximity spectators can afford to the players.
“We have talked about this in the board and PAC [player advisory council] level for a few years,” McIlroy explained.
“It’s a bit of a slippery slope because I don’t think there’s any other sport – maybe basketball and you can sit on the court, but it’s a different environment – where people can really affect the game out here.
“As long as it’s operated in the right way and as long as measures are taken to ensure that things like what happened to Max Homa don’t happen. We’re all for people out here having a good time and being able to put something on a result as long as they don’t feel like they can come here and affect that result. That’s important.
“My biggest pet peeve is when you read a putt and someone who’s been sitting there all day says, ‘It doesn’t break as much as you think,’ or whatever. I’m just like, ‘Shut up and don’t be part of the show, just enjoy watching golf, right?’
“But I wouldn’t say it has to do with gambling per se. If I was here as a fan, I just want to go out and try to see the best players in the world and have a good time doing it.”
The Tour Championship begins at East Lake on Thursday, with McIlroy bidding to defend his title.
It is the final event of three in the FedEx Cup playoff series that determines the PGA Tour’s season champion.
A small field of 30 will begin in Atlanta, with each player completing preliminary results based on their performance in the FedEx Cup rankings this year.
Scottie Scheffler, the leader, starts at 10 under par with Viktor Hovland at eight under and McIlroy a shot further back.
“This tournament is kind of weird because there’s tee shots, and I wouldn’t say it’s the best format to identify the best golfer of the year,” Scheffler said.
“Jon Rahm played some of the best golf of anyone this year and he’s coming into this tournament tied for fourth and he’s four strokes back. In theory, he could have won 20 times this year, and he would only have a two-shot lead.
“I feel like I’ve joked a decent amount about being (world) No. 1, which means you don’t get any extra punches and you show up this week and I get some extra punches. It’s a little bit strange, but it should be a fun week.”