Rory McIlroy has come to the defence of his under-fire Ryder Cup rival Bryson DeChambeau – even if he admits the American is not “completely blameless”.
The PGA Tour have promised a crackdown on rowdy crowds before Thursday’s Tour Championships and warned fans calling out “Brooksie” at DeChambeau would be ejected .
The two American Major winners have called a truce in their running feud before this month’s Ryder Cup.
But DeChambeau, who slammed his own club maker at the Open, is still never far from controversy and has been continually taunted at events. He is also refusing to speak to the general media.
And McIlroy said: “I certainly feel some sympathy for him because I don’t think that you should be ostracised or criticised for being different, and 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. I’m not saying that he’s completely blameless in this.
“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 and 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 definitely feel for him a little bit.”
McIlroy confronted a heckling fan at the febrile 2016 Ryder Cup after abusive comments about his former fiancee Caroline Wozniacki and said he now tried to not “take anything personally”.
But the four-time Major winner added: “I think some of it crosses the line. I think certain other sports culture has fed into our game.
“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 fan base be.”
McIlroy, who has twice won the season-ending event at East Lakes, will start eight shots behind FedEx Cup leader Cantlay in the staggered start in the race to the $15m first prize.
And the new world No.4 Cantlay said the PGA Tour’s Player Impact Programme – where the top players on social media share a bonus – had contributed to fan misbehaviour.
“I think, it might be a symptom of a larger problem, which is social media driven and which is potentially PIP derived,” said the American. “I won’t take any of the PIP money. I think it’s kind of ridiculous.”