The heckling I have had in the United States cannot be divorced from the fact that I find it hard to keep my emotions to myself. Any heckling element in a crowd has always seemed to me as an easy target, and that is why they come back for more, or at least have done until now.
It started in earnest on the Friday of the 1997 US Open at Congressional.
David Pepper, who has been chairman of the R & A’s Rules Committee and is currently chairman of the championship committee, was officiating in the match behind mine. He has a clear memory of three well-groomed but clearly intoxicated women in their early thirties swaying out of a hospitality tent after the rain delay.
They homed in on my match and started to regale me with wolf whistles. Before too long, a few men joined in the fun, only their contribution was to yell abuse.
“Go home,” said one. “Piss off,” said another. They were looking for a reaction from me and, before too long, they got it. “Why don’t you save that for the Ryder Cup,” I said, stupidly. When the heckling failed to subside, I made the further mistake of calling one of them a “pillock”. I returned a 76. I had started to feel jet-lagged and fractious even before the hecklers had come into the picture, but there is no question that they did not do anything to help my fitful concentration.
It does not take much for things to ignite on the eve of a Ryder Cup, and on the occasion of the 1997 match at Valderrama I found myself involved in a wholly unexpected furore following an interview with two Scottish journalists.
In what was a pretty comprehensive interview about all aspects of the match, they had asked me to run through the list of Americans. What did I think of their individual games going into the match' I had plenty of respect for the US players, but when it came to Brad Faxon I noted that this might be a tough time for him since he was in the throes of a divorce.
When it came to Phil Mickelson, who can still be wayward but who is straighter off the tee now than he was then, I said he might be hitting all over the place. And then there was Tiger Woods. My feeling there was that the course might not suit him as well as it might suit others. Someone with his length and strength could find it a little fiddly.
In context, the quotes were pretty harmless, but by the time they had been plucked from The Scotsman’s website I was in deep trouble. CBS flashed up each remark in turn and somehow managed to convey that I had been running down the opposition as a whole. In the end I had to write letters of apology to the players concerned.
It was at the 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline that the heckling became nothing less than vitriolic. Paul Lawrie, who was playing alongside me in the fourballs and foursomes, could not believe some of the insults he was hearing. Previously, he wondered if it were all more mischievous than anything else. Now, he realised that the hecklers’ only aim was to put me off.
The Sunday singles at that Ryder Cup were even more extreme. The trouble had its origins on the first tee where some of the American players started whipping up the crowds before they drove off.
Payne Stewart, my opponent, was not among them. He was the perfect gentleman from the start and could not have done more to try to protect me from the afternoon’s events.
To the irritation of the mob, I was three up after six holes though back to two by the time we arrived on the ninth tee. After Payne had hit, I teed up my ball and, for once, though it was never going to last, there was complete silence as I shaped to the ball. I managed to get as far as the top of my backswing when a man standing a couple of rows behind the tee could contain himself no longer. “You ****,” he cried, with the key word so coarse and so alien to anything I had ever heard before on a golf course as to be unrepeatable.
I stopped and had to re-address the shot. Prince Andrew (a keen golfer with whom I’ve become friendly over the years), my brother Douglas and Eimear all swooped on the culprit, an overweight fellow in shorts who was apparently reeking of beer.
As the marshals helped to subdue him and led him away, I turned to the crowd and said, “First to go. If anyone else says that, they'll go as well.” My legs were now shaking.
Payne, who had just won the US Open at Pinehurst, was brilliant. He knew that there was more than one troublemaker out there and, from that moment, he kept going into the crowd himself and saying to the security men, “Get rid of him, him and him.” It sickened Payne only slightly less than it sickened my father.
In Dad’s eyes, it was as if the very game had been defiled. I looked for him after the incident but he had walked back to the clubhouse, his lifelong love of the game having taken an irreparable blow.