CHASKA, Minn. — We interrupt the all-important preparations for the 41st Ryder Cup to bring you this important public-service message:
Danny Willett is sorry.
He’s sorry about the article his brother penned for the National Club Golfer calling American fans “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.”
Among other things.
He’s sorry if it’s ruptured the spirit of stuffy collegiality that’s supposed to prevail at these biennial matches — at least until the opening tee shot is struck — between two world powers united in their desire chase a little white ball across expansive green meadows while keeping score.
And while we’re at it, the Englishman is sorry, too, about the errant drive on the second hole of his morning practice round that conked a spectator in the head.
“Knocked it backwards, actually,” Willett said about the fan, stifling a grin.
By the time he settled behind a microphone at a news conference later Thursday afternoon, Willett had already apologized to his parents, who are here at Hazeltine; his own captain, Darren Clarke; his 11 European teammates; U.S. captain Davis Love III; and all 12 U.S. players.
About the only person he hasn’t yet apologized to is brother, Pete, who earned kudos for his funny, occasionally off-color running commentary on Twitter during the final round of Danny Willett’s Masters’ victory in April. Instead, his parents spoke to his brother last night “and obviously had a good chat with him. … Pete’s apologized to me,” Willett said.
“Family is family,” he sighed a moment later. “What he said was wrong and incredibly ill-timed, but he’s still my brother.”
Whether this bit of contrived controversy lingers much longer rests with the fans. Past Ryder Cups have inspired clever insults and bawdy songs from galleries on both sides of the Atlantic.
The only hint of that so far came when a handful of fans wearing yellow suits and draped in European flags stood alongside the practice green and began singing, “Don’t you know me, baby” — to the tune of the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me, Baby” — followed by “Danny Willett.”
American fans standing nearby responded with chants of “USA! USA!” But the exchange was both short and good-natured. A quick, unscientific survey of fans suggested little chance things would go much further.
“Are we offended? No,” said golf fan Tom Watson, who drove up from Omaha, Nebraska, with two friends for the practice round.
“I saw him in front of the cameras apologizing and I kind of felt sorry for Willett,” echoed his pal, Andy King. “His brother sounds more like a college football fan than a golf fan to me.”
Alan Findlay, who was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and is the general manager of La Playa Golf Club in Naples, Florida, called Pete Willett’s remarks “ridiculous.
“It was a case of ‘open mouth, insert foot,'” he chuckled. “I hope people understand it was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek.”
A moment later, Findlay noted the passing of golf great Arnold Palmer on Sunday and said, “I hope both sides remember the things Arnie stood for and keep it spirited but classy.”
That was Willett’s intention, and his teammates said the same steely nerves that served him well on the final day at Augusta National will be in evidence through the three days of matches here.
“Dan is so mentally strong. That’s been an asset of his ever since I’ve known him,” said Chris Wood, who like Willett is one of six rookies on the European side. “Dan will cope just fine.”
Willett made it a point to thank the galleries for treating him so well during the practice round. He wouldn’t mind — in fact, he expects those same fans — to bring a little tougher stuff to the actual matches.
“I don’t think anyone ever came to America, any of the European lads, and thought it was going to be a walk in the park,” Willett said. “That’s the nature of the beast. Same when their guys come to Europe.
“You don’t mind the odd bit of heckling,” he added, “but hoping it doesn’t go too far.”