CHASKA, Minn. — Danny Willett really had no idea what to expect during his first career match in the pressure-packed Ryder Cup.
When it came to the partisan American crowd, he knew exactly what was coming.
The 28-year-old Masters champion was heckled and jeered throughout his Ryder Cup debut Friday afternoon, a vociferous response from fans at Hazeltine who took exception to a crude but humorous essay penned by his brother this week that called American golf fans “fat, stupid, greedy (and) classless.”
From the moment the Englishman stepped to the tee box at No. 1 until he and partner Martin Kaymer were defeated by Brandt Snedeker and Brooks Koepka on No. 14, Willett heard from a Hazeltine crowd of more than 50,000.
“It was anticipated,” Willett said. “Like I said before, coming to America is a tough one, just like when the Americans come to Europe. They gave me a little bit more. And yeah, I think it was exactly what we thought it was going to be.”
There were playful taunts like a chant of “Will-ett’s bro-ther! Will-ett’s bro-ther!”
Several fans asked Willett to get them a hot dog, a reference to a plea in Pete Willet’s blog for a British golf outlet that the European team silence “the 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.”
Others were a little more aggressive, telling Willett to hit it in the water and hollering “you’re brother’s an idiot!”
American vice captain Bubba Watson implored some of the more unruly fans to calm down on a few occasions and European teammate Rory McIlroy said a minority of fans were hostile and perhaps crossed a line, prompting him to deliver a bow after finishing off Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar with a 20-foot eagle putt on No. 16.
If that brings more heat from the fans on Saturday, McIlroy will be ready.
“Most of the people out there are respectful and are just cheering really hard for the U.S. team,” McIlroy said. “That’s totally acceptable and that’s exactly what happens in Europe. But still, it’s a hostile environment that the people out there don’t want you to hole a putt. They don’t want you to it a good shot.
“I think when you do hole a putt or hit a good shot, it just makes it that much more satisfying.
Whether it was the crowd or Snedeker and Koepka, Willett and Kaymer were soundly defeated, 5 and 4. It was the only loss of the afternoon session for the Europeans, who rallied to win the other three after getting swept in the morning foursomes. Willett got off to an impressive start, rolling in a long birdie putt on No. 1 to answer the crowd’s initial taunting. But the Euro pair only took one hole in the match, when Willett birdied No. 9.
“You get that pretty much every week, it seems like, on tour on the weekend,” Snedeker said. “You get in the last couple groups, people don’t want you to win or whatever it may be, you hear some yelling. I didn’t think it crossed the line by any stretch of the imagination today.”
Willett at least gets Saturday morning off. He was not in the lineup for the foursomes matches.
He spent most of Thursday apologizing for, and trying to distance himself from, his brother’s remarks, but did acknowledge that he had trouble focusing amid the brush fire created by the essay.
“By and large,” he said, “it was probably what we expected.”