Americans’ constant spitting leaves a bitter aftertaste to their Ryder Cup triumph


At every turn of this Ryder Cup, Brooks Koepka has emerged as a man who prefers to be anywhere else. He cultivated a palpable air of distraction, whether it was through his thorny feud with the rule makers or his glare when he hit the first disc of his singles match into a juniper bush. The least uplifting of all, however, was his habit of spitting more often than a cigarillo-smoking Clint Eastwood in a ’60s western.

In the past, to spit on golf was to receive savage and deserved censorship. When Tiger Woods coughed up on a green in Dubai in 2011, Sky’s Ewan Murray raged: “There are some parts of him that are just cocky and petulant. Now someone has to come up behind him and maybe put on some saliva. It doesn’t go much lower than that.

But looking at Koepka is seeing how the act has become grimly normalized in the American game. Spitting as it wandered the fairways, and again bordering the greens, it irrigated Whistling Strait like a one-man sprinkler system.

It’s disgusting to see, and yet the American golf authorities seem to have no interest in giving even the slightest reprimand. The United States Golf Association has no etiquette guidelines dealing with the subject; neither does the PGA Tour. Some of the worst disbelievers are oblivious to the fact that they are doing it, until they find themselves publicly questioned. It happened to former PGA Champion of the United States, Keegan Bradley, a notorious spitter before being carried over the coals at a press conference.

“I would like to apologize,” he said. “It’s like a reflex, I don’t even know I’m doing it, but it’s a long-standing habit that I have to try to conquer.” While Bradley can take credit for fixing the problem, his contrition felt somewhat strained, given that his own equipment maker described spitting as “no big deal.”

The embarrassing truth is that in American sports, the spectacle of spitting barely elicits a shrug. Baseball players do this all the time, a tradition that dates back to their 19th-century habit of chewing tobacco to produce saliva, which they could then use to keep their gloves moist on dusty fields. In golf, these excuses hardly apply. He has no practical advantage in what is, by any stretch, a mild aerobic sport. And yet, many prominent Americans have continued to fall back into the same horrific routine, from Koepka to Daniel Berger to Dustin Johnson, who supported his spitting up throughout the age of Covid-19.

One inescapable conclusion is that this is, in large part, an American problem. I don’t want to be a partisan, but I’ve noticed that no European player needs to spit on those Wisconsin ties, in part because they know it wouldn’t be tolerated in their home tournaments. When golf resumed across the continent after the first wave of Covid, the European Tour announced it would toughen its sanctions against serial spitters, explaining: “Players are expected to abide by standards of courtesy and behavior normally accepted. “

No one seeks to be judgmental at a Ryder Cup, an event that thrives on turbulent energy, but spitting should be treated as irrelevant. Alas, this is far from the only questionable behavior of which this American team is guilty. Before Saturday’s four balls, Berger and Justin Thomas, rested for the afternoon session, emerged in noisy stands around the first tee and started drinking cans of beer.


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