Rory McIlroy warns golf could face a ‘slippery slope’ with gamblers impacting events

Rory McIlroy believes golf needs to be careful to prevent spectators affecting tournaments  (REUTERS)
Rory McIlroy believes golf needs to be careful to prevent spectators affecting tournaments (REUTERS)

Rory McIlroy has warned that golf could face a “slippery slope” with gamblers increasingly impacting upon play at events.

Two individuals were ejected from the BMW Championship in lllinois last weekend after shouting at Max Homa while he was stood over a putt.

The pair’s remarks reportedly related to a wager between friends, with the increasing popularity of sports betting in the United States, where most high profile golf events are held, meaning incidents of that kind are becoming more and more frequent.

“We hear it every single round,” said Jon Rahm, winner of the Masters earlier this year. “That happens way more often than you guys may hear. I mean, it’s very, very present.”

McIlroy, speaking ahead of the Tour Championship in Georgia, confirmed that the topic had been discussed at PGA Tour board level, and cautioned that the sport must be careful given the proximity spectators are afforded to players.

“We have talked about this at the board and the PAC [player advisory council] level for a few years,” McIlroy explained.

“It is a bit of a slippery slope because I don’t think there’s any other sport – maybe basketball and you can sit courtside, but it’s a different environment – where people can really affect the play out here.

“As long as it’s policed the right way and as long as there’s measures put in place for things like what happened to Max Homa not to happen. We’re all for people out here having a good time and being able to put something on an outcome, as long as they don’t feel like they can come here and influence that outcome. That’s important.

“My biggest pet peeve is when you’re reading a putt and someone that’s been sitting there all day is like, ‘It doesn’t break as much as you think’, or whatever. I just think, ‘Shut up and don’t be a part of the show, just enjoy watching the golf, right?’

“But I wouldn’t say that’s to do with gambling, per se. If I was here as a fan, I just want to go out and try to watch the best players in the world and have a good time doing that.”

The Tour Championship begins at East Lake on Thursday with McIlroy bidding to defend his title.

It is the final event of three in the FedEx Cup playoff series that determine the PGA Tour’s season champion.

A small field of 30 will begin in Atlanta with each player carrying through starting scores based on their performances in the FedEx Cup rankings this year.

Scottie Scheffler, the leader, starts on 10 under par with Viktor Hovland on eight under and McIlroy one shot further in arrears.

“This tournament is a little bit weird because there’s starting strokes and I wouldn’t say that it is the best format to identify the best golfer for the year,” Scheffler said.

Jon Rahm played some of the best golf of anybody this year and he’s coming into this tournament fourth and he’s four shots back. In theory, he could have won 20 times this year and he would only have a two-shot lead.

“I feel like I’ve joked a decent amount about being (world) No 1 meaning you don’t get any extra strokes and you show up this week and I do get some extra strokes. It’s a bit strange, but it should be a fun week.”