So here we go with Tiger Woods again. Most of us have seen the tape by now of him spitting while crouched over a putt on the 12th hole at Dubai on Sunday during the course of a miserable final round at whatever they call that event over there.
Personally, I don’t think what he did is that big a deal even though it certainly wasn’t pretty to see, especially in slo-mo replay. One the one hand, you can say what he did is roughly the same as what most baseball players do about four times per at bat. On the other hand, this isn’t baseball. There are very specific rules on every tour about how players are supposed to conduct themselves while on the golf course and in the public eye. Years ago, if you shook hands with Nick Price you could feel the burn marks on his hand from cupping cigarettes so as not to be caught on camera smoking during a round.
Profanity is the coin of the realm in most sports. The other day during the Syracuse-Louisville game cameras clearly caught Jim Boeheim yelling ‘b-----,’ at the officials after a bad call at a critical juncture and there was no attempt to switch away from him as he continued his rant. In golf, someone hears you use profanity—whether it is picked up by the cameras or not—you can get fined.
Jay Haas may be as nice a man as has ever played the game of golf. He’s fan-friendly to a fault. Years ago though he was having a very bad Saturday in Milwaukee. He’d been in the hunt after two rounds and shot 77 on Saturday which, as Haas said, ‘is about like shooting 90 on that golf course.’ He came to 18 hot, frustrated and worn out. His second shot stuck in the rough behind the green and when he tried to gouge it out, the ball ran through the green and into the rough again. As Haas stalked the ball, someone in the gallery yelled, “Haas, you suck!”
“Yeah well, ‘f---- you,’” Haas responded, just done with being patient for once in his life.
The next morning rules official Wade Cagle called Haas into his office. “Jay we got a report from one of the marshals yesterday,” he said. “He claims you said, ‘f--- you,’ to a fan. I’m sure it was a mistake. You must have been saying, ‘thank-you,’ right?”
Haas laughed. “No, the guy has it right,” he said. “I said ‘f---- you,’ and I stand by it. How much do I owe you?”
The cost was $500—first offense for conduct unbecoming a professional. Haas wrote the check and told the story because the tour certainly wouldn’t announce the fine. The PGA Tour doesn’t announce fines but that’s another story for another day—or later today if you go to GolfChannel.com where I’ve written a column on that issue.
This is about Tiger. You can talk if you want about how the scrutiny placed upon him is unfair. There’s something to that. As he has pointed out through the years in complaining to the tour about all his fines, he’s always got a camera or a microphone pointed at him. Other plays can curse, throw a club or spit a lot of the time and get away with it unless some marshal is standing nearby taking notes.
Well, to quote Arnold Palmer in 1997, “you’re right Tiger, you aren’t a normal 21-year-old, normal 21-year-olds don’t have $50 million in the bank.”
Tiger’s 35 now and, even after his divorce, he’s got considerably more than $50 million in the bank. Last year when he came back from his self-imposed post-accident exile to the tour he talked about ‘showing more respect for the game,’ something Tom Watson and others had criticized him for both pre and post-accident. For all the talk—which has quieted in the last 15 months to some degree hasn’t it?—about everything Earl taught Tiger, he clearly never got around to the simple lesson about golf course etiquette most of us learn when we’re kids.
Palmer has often told the story about his father warning him he’d never play again when he saw him throw a club during a junior tournament. Most of us who have played at ANY level have had that moment.
Tiger’s never had anything close. No one has ever told him NO on any level, which is why he’s still throwing clubs, cursing, spitting and generally behaving like a spoiled brat when things don’t go right for him on the golf course. Everyone knows he’s frustrated and no one blames him for feeling that way. He’s used to dominating on Sundays, not going from 4th to 20th or having some rookie commenting that he didn’t look like he was giving it all during a final round. If there’s one thing I’ve always admired about Tiger is that he NEVER mailed it in no matter where he was playing or where he stood on the leaderboard. Now he’s got kids in his group saying he doesn’t look like he cares when he’s not in contention. THAT I find stunning.
The reason this incident became news is three-fold: It was caught clearly on television; it was part of another bad Sunday for Tiger and because The European Tour—unlike The PGA Tour—does announce that it has fined a player even though it won’t tell you how much. (Think in the $25,000 range). I heard one guy on a DC radio show Monday—the alleged golf reporter at Newschannel 8—claiming that the reason the fine was announced was because people are piling on Tiger now because he isn’t playing well.
Um, wrong. The fine was announced because that’s The Euro Tour’s policy whether it’s Tiger or Rory McIlroy or any of those Flying Molinari’s who commits the infraction.
Of course what’s truly baffling isn’t Tiger’s behavior. In fact, it’s old news by now. What’s baffling is his sudden inability to play well on the weekends. He’s got three tournaments left before The Masters—unless he shocks all of us by actually adjusting his schedule. Until then, this is all a warm-up act. Tiger has some work to do between now and then.
Someone asked an interesting question last week: Do I know the questions I’m going to be asked when I go on the radio. The answer is: not usually. I can guess based on what’s going on what I might be asked about but I don’t usually specifically talk to the host or the producer beforehand.
The only exception to that in the past was when I was still on NPR where I actually wrote my own questions because none of the producers there knew the difference between a hockey puck and a basketball. (On the day Bob Knight was fired I called in to explain that I needed to be on the next morning and the producer who answered the phone said, “so why was he important? Did he coach Michael Jordan or something?”)
“Yeah, or something,” I answered.
The other exception goes in the other direction: Tony Kornheiser has specifically asked me not to bring up Dan Snyder on his show. I feel queasy about this but Tony’s my friend and it is his show. It isn’t as if there aren’t plenty of other forums for me to talk about Snyder and Snyder is one of those guys Tony simply isn’t going to go after—not because he’s paid by him but because he likes him.
Look, we all have blind spots. If you tell me something bad about Paul Goydos or Tom Watson or Gary Williams or Mike Krzyzewski or Mary Carillo or Joe Torre or Bobby Cox I’m not going to listen. Snyder is one of those guys for Tony. So is Mitch Albom, who we also disagree on. If I had a show and he wanted to come on and rip Watson’s politics, I’d probably say, ‘look, I’m sure I agree with you but the guy is my friend so let’s not go there.’ And he wouldn’t go there. So, Tony and I don’t talk about Snyder. We agree to disagree--vehemently.