This isn’t a good week to be Pete Willett’s more famous and now less infamous brother.
Danny Willett, Masters champion and European Ryder Cup player, got his first bitter taste of that Wednesday as he walked toward his third shot behind the 15th green during a nine-hole practice round for the 41st Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club.
“Hey, Danny!” a pro-American yelled with disdain from the grandstands. “Why don’t you go get your brother out here to caddie for you!”
Danny ignored the outburst and flopped a downhill chip to within a foot of the cup. But that could end up being the “Game On” origin between Hazeltine’s massive galleries and Willett, whose brother made him an unwitting target for the Ryder Cup’s traditional partisan fan hostility.
Writing for National Club Golfer in the United Kingdom, Pete Willett skewered American golf fans in a column that appeared Wednesday morning. Before Danny turned to Golf Channel to apologize late in the day, this is what Pete wrote early in the day:
“For the Americans to stand a chance of winning, they need their baying mob of imbeciles to caress their egos every step of the way,” Pete wrote. “… Team Europe needs to silence the pudgy, basement-dwelling, irritants, stuffed on cookie dough and … [weak] beer, pausing between mouthfuls of hotdog so they can scream ‘Baba booey’ until their jelly faces turn red.
“They need to stun the angry, unwashed, Make America Great Again swarm, desperately gripping their concealed-carry compensators and belting out … ‘mashed potato.’ … They need to smash the obnoxious dads, with their shiny teeth, Lego man hair, medicated ex-wives, and resentful children. Squeezed into their cargo shorts and boating shoes, they’ll bellow ‘get in the hole’ whilst high-fiving all the other members of the Dentists’ Big Game Hunt Society.
“Team Europe need to silence these cretins quickly.”
There were no fan outbursts directed toward Willett other than the one on 15. He was well-received, although playing partners Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose were the fan favorites. Willett took time to sign a lot of autographs and even got the fans on 16 roaring with laughter when he putted Garcia’s 1-foot birdie putt into the water as Garcia faked outrage and pretended to throw Willett’s wedge into the pond.
By then, there was a buzz in the gallery that suggested most fans were learning of Pete’s article via social media. Many remembered Pete from his hilarious tweets as his brother was winning the Masters in April.
But there were fewer chuckles by the time Willett walked up 18. A fan out of earshot said, “Should we ask him if he knows what they’re saying about him on Twitter?”
Yes, Willett knew the firestorm had begun. European captain Darren Clarke told him on his third hole.
“He’s bitterly disappointed in his brother’s article,” Clarke said. “It is not what Danny thinks. It is not what I think. It is not what Team Europe stands for.”
Meanwhile, U.S. captain Davis Love III tried to stay out of the controversy.
“I heard about it … and I took Coach [Bill] Belichick’s advice: Ignored the noise,” Love III said. “If I read it, I’m just going to get mad. … [and] defensive. So I just try to ignore it.”
Willett met with Davis to apologize and then went on the Golf Channel.
“I would just like to apologize to everyone involved for what’s been said,” he said. “It’s obviously not the thoughts of myself and the team and of Captain Darren. I said to Pete that I was obviously disappointed in what was said and written about the American fans. They obviously took me under their wing fantastically back in April.
“Davis and I had a chat for a few moments about it all. He took it very well and has [put it behind] himself and for the team. Hopefully, everybody else can do the same and we can get on and have a great tournament.”