By Lehlohonolo Lehana.
Rory McIlroy says he sympathises with Bryson DeChambeau and has called on fans not to criticise the American golfer "for being different".
A polarising figure in the sport, DeChambeau has been on the receiving end of heckles in recent weeks mainly relating to an ongoing feud with Ryder Cup team-mate Brooks Koepka.
"I certainly feel some sympathy for him," McIlroy said.
"I think we have all known from the start that Bryson is different.
"He is not going to conform to the way people want him to be. He is his own person. He thinks his own thoughts and everyone has a right to do that."
DeChambeau, known as 'The Scientist' for his determination to defy conventional golfing wisdom in search of new, innovative approaches to succeed has divided opinion among fellow players and fans.
Earlier this week his high-profile dispute with Koepka was again thrust into the spotlight when he swore at a fan who mocked him by saying "great job, Brooksie" after his play-off defeat by Patrick Cantlay in the BMW Championship.
Similar heckles have been aimed at DeChambeau in recent events, prompting PGA Tour Chief Jay Monahan to announce that further cries of "Brooksie" could result in fans being removed from events.
"There are certainly things that he has done in the past that have brought some of this stuff on himself. I'm not saying that he's completely blameless in this," continued McIlroy, who tees off at the Tour Championship on Thursday at 17:50 BST.
"But at the same time, I think he has been getting a pretty rough go of it of late and it's actually pretty sad to see because he, deep down, I think, is a nice person and all he wants to do is try to be the best golfer he can be.
"And it just seems like every week something else happens and I would say it's pretty tough to be Bryson DeChambeau right now."
McIlroy has first hand experience of being on the receiving end of relentless taunts from spectators, most famously at the 2016 Ryder Cup when a fan was removed after being confronted by the Northern Irishman.
With this year's much-anticipated tournament now just three weeks away McIlroy, who last year said he had no desire to play in a Ryder Cup without spectators, agreed with the suggestion that fan behaviour has deteriorated.
"I think some of it crosses the line," he said.
"I think certain other sports culture has fed into our game and fed into the fan base. That's definitely affected it, and people will make the argument that, well, it happens in every other sport.
"But I would say that we're not any other sport and I think golf should hold itself to a higher standard. I mean, the players are certainly held to a higher standard than other sports, so why wouldn't our fan base be.
"As golfers, there's a very thin rope that separates us from the fans, and then you hit a shot off line, and you have to go into the fans to hit it. So we get a little closer to them than some other sports".
McIlroy will form part of Padraig Harrington's European Ryder Cup side at Whistling Straights in what will be his sixth consecutive appearance in the competition.