I have been saying and writing for years now that The PGA Tour’s policy on disciplining players is a joke. Unlike other sports which routinely announce player fines and suspensions, the tour keeps them a deep, dark secret. The theory, according to Commissioner Tim Finchem, is that the tour is built on the players being thought of as gentlemen and announcing fines for profanity or misbehavior of any kind undercuts that image.
My belief—as I’ve said to Finchem and others in authority at the tour—is that that’s a bunch of hooey. To begin with, by letting the public know that it doesn’t tolerate misbehavior, the tour actually strengthens the image that it wants. More important than that, by announcing fines or suspensions, the tour sends a message to the players that it isn’t messing around. The only way to make fines a deterrent is by making the players who misbehave deal with what they’ve done in public.
There’s no better example than Tiger Woods, who has often complained about the fact that he is the most fined player in the history of the tour. Woods has been fined innumerable times for on-course profanity; for throwing clubs and for the behavior of his vigilante caddie, Steve Williams.
But the tour has never once announced any of his fines. Woods, as we all know, isn’t just a golfer he’s a corporation. Until November 27th he was the most carefully marketed athlete in history, his image burnished at every turn by the corporations he was in business with.
It is impossible not to wonder how Woods, his corporate sponsors and his image-makers would have felt if every week a story had appeared on how much money he’d been fined for misbehavior. There’s no doubt such stories would have undercut his image long before his serial affairs destroyed that image.
Everyone knows when you punish a child you don’t just say, ‘don’t do it again.’ You attach a consequence in the hope that the child will think twice before repeating the offense. No one ever attached a consequence for misbehavior to Tiger—or to anyone else on the tour. The money doesn’t matter, certainly not to Tiger and not to 99 percent of the players out there.
Most players like to tell stories about how they got fined: Paul Goydos once got fined for yelling profanities at the tape in the PGA Tour travel office when it wasn’t open on a Saturday afternoon. He likes to tell people that several of his fellow pros took up a collection to pay the $500 when the travel office changed its hours after his call.
Jay Haas tells the story about his one and only fine on tour. On the 18th hole of a miserable third round in Milwaukee he skittered an awful chip all the way across the green. As he walked to his ball he heard someone yell, “Haas, you suck!”
Normally the most mild-mannered guy you’ll ever meet, Haas snapped for an instant and yelled, ‘f---- you.,’ back at the guy.
The next day when rules official Wade Cagle called him into ask about a report that had been filed on the incident, Cagle said, “I’m sure you were misheard Jay, you were probably saying, ‘thank-you.’”
“Nope,” Haas said. “I said ‘f----- you.’ How much do I owe you?”
Those stories are funny because they involved guys who generally behave well. For them, a fine is an aberration just like Brad Faxon’s fine years ago for criticizing Scott Hoch for not playing in The British Open (criticizing another player publicly—conduct unbecoming) was an aberration.
Woods’s lousy behavior was never an aberration. It was who he was and no one seriously called him on it until Tom Watson brought it up several weeks ago.
The same is true of John Daly. John’s problem hasn’t been cursing or club-throwing. In fact, John Daly is about as nice a guy as you’ll meet on the golf tour. But, as everyone knows, he’s had serious issues since he first burst onto the scene in 1991 that go way beyond the occasional profanity.
Two days ago, Garry Smits broke a story in the Florida Times-Union that shows definitely how the tour has enabled Daly for almost 20 years. Because Daly had filed a libel suit against The Times-Union that was thrown out of court, Smits was able to gain access to the tour’s 486-page file on Daly, which was part of the court record.
Daly, it turns out, has been suspended six times during his career, has been fined more than $100,000—a drop in the bucket for someone who has lost that in a couple hours playing blackjack during his life—and has been ordered to go to counseling or rehab by the tour on seven different occasions. He was fined 11 different times for ‘conduct unbecoming,’ and was reprimanded TWENTY-ONE times for failing to give full effort.
At least two of the suspensions have been in the public domain because Daly talked about them. That said, what the file makes clear is that Daly was a repeat offender in all these areas and the tour did very little to try to stop him—or help him. When Daly was last suspended (and didn’t keep it a secret) at the end of 2008 I wrote that Finchem should call his fellow commissioners around the world and ask them to extend the suspension so that Daly couldn’t play golf ANYWHERE until he got help. He didn’t and Daly kept on playing—usually for appearance fees, which are allowed overseas.
Now Daly is trying once again to rebuild his life. He’s had surgery on his stomach to keep his weight down—he’s lost about 100 pounds—and he says he wants to take one more serious shot at being competitive on the tour again. Of course a few weeks ago, after missing another cut, Daly announced his retirement. Then he played a week later.
We can all root for John Daly because there’s no malice in him. That said, the tour did him no favors by covering up all the discipline he has faced through the years. It doesn’t do ANY of the players a favor by covering up their misbehavior. Maybe Finchem needs to spend less time defending Woods and more time thinking about how poorly his tour’s policies on discipline have worked out for—arguably—its two best-known players.
I really enjoyed a lot of the comments from yesterday on my dust-up with Michael Wilbon. If nothing else, they showed that people really do pay attention to what people in our business say and write.
Two quick things: For the record, so there is no confusion, my issues with Tiger Woods date to 1996—WAY before Rocco Mediate approached me about writing a book—when I compared his father to Stefano Capriati (which, in retrospect may have been unfair to Capriati) and criticized him for blowing off a dinner in his honor (college player of the year) because he was, ‘tired,’ and for turning down an invitation to join Rachel Robinson and President Clinton in New York after he won The Masters on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s Major League debut. (To Tiger’s credit, he wrote Mrs. Robinson a couple of years later to apologize for not being there).
Tiger and I had a lengthy dinner in 1998 during which we discussed a lot of this and agreed to disagree. If you were to check what I’ve written about him through the years, I’ve said a LOT of good things about him too—especially about his golf which is, clearly, unassailable. For Wilbon—or anyone—to imply that my criticism of him since November 27th has anything to do with the Rocco book is just silly and false. I TOLD Rocco when he approached me about the book that Tiger wasn’t going to talk, certainly not to me, probably not to anyone. It was ROCCO who was angry when he didn’t talk, not me.
I don’t have an axe to grind with Tiger. He’s been great for the game of golf. Watching him play is amazing. But I’m not going to find ways to defend him: “no one cares, it’s no one’s business…” just so he’ll call me by name when he returns to the tour.
Finally to Nathan: Thanks for the explanation of your question to Mike. For the record, my regular Sunday column has appeared in The Post the last two Sundays. As I’ve said, The Post isn’t ESPN. In fact, if you listen to Tony’s radio show he often says, “I love Sally (Jenkins) but her column today was ridiculous.” In fact, he often says it to Sally. Unlike some people, she LAUGHS about it…
Finally: One last time on the “Junior,” nickname. Tony put it on me 30 years ago after I first wrote a long piece on John McEnroe. Because we got along—and because I was the youngest guy on the sports staff at the time—he put “Junior,” on me because that was McEnroe’s nickname. I’ve pleaded with him since, I guess I turned 40, to drop it because at 23 it was fine, at my age now I find it silly. He can’t stop himself—so I deal with it. When strangers use it I find it not so much offensive as disrespectful. I don’t call anyone I don’t know by a nickname. To me, that’s between friends unless the person calls himself that as in Don Imus calling himself, “The I-Man.”