Every week, our panel of sports fans discusses a topic of the moment. For today's conversation, Hampton Stevens (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), Jake Simpson (writer, The Atlantic), and Patrick Hruby (writer, Sports on Earth and The Atlantic) discuss the recent dust-up involving Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia, and a bizarre remark about fried chicken.
Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia have never liked each other very much. This week, though, their tiff got weird.
It started a few weeks ago, back at the PGA's Players Championship. Garcia complained about being distracted on the course, saying that Woods selected a club during Garcia's backswing. That alone would be a dire breach of golf's weird, kabuki-like and all-important gentlemanly code.
But this is Tiger Woods we are talking about. Fans on tour will cheer Tiger for burping. The act of selecting a club is always enough to prompt applause. It's fairly absurd.
Did Woods pull the club and distract Garcia? If so, was it on purpose? Despite investigative reporting to rival Woodward and Bernstein, no one seems to have the slightest clue. Nevertheless, the two have been vaguely insulting each other through the media ever since.
All in good fun, until this week. Garcia was on stage during the European Tour Players' Awards dinner. A reporter clearly looking to stir up a story asked Garcia asked if he planned to have Woods for dinner. Garcia said he would have Woods over every night and serve fried chicken.
It was creepy and strangely echoed Fuzzy Zoeller's similarly racist comments way back in 1997, when Tiger stormed to his historic first Masters win. Garcia, of course, has apologized a few times times now—online and before an assembled media throng.
Guys, how bad was Sergio's remark? Can he be excused? Spanish fans do have a rich history of racism, casually tossing out vicious taunts. Garcia might have grown up just not knowing any better. Now he does. It's also clear this rivalry is better off the links.
Woods, it seems, will never have a real rival. Sam Snead had his Ben Hogan. Arnold Palmer had Jack Nicklaus. Nicklaus had Tom Watson. Bird had his Magic. Not Tiger. Beyond a few seasons from Phil Mickelson, Woods has never had a rival worthy of his talent. The guy's best fights have been with his wife and caddies.
The other question if this kind of public sniping is good for the PGA—sans the racism, obviously.
Part of me wants the tour to get with the 21 century, to self-promote by encouraging just this sort of Twitter trash-talk rivalry. (Again, that's with nobody channeling the KKK.) The secret moralist in me, though, cries at the ugliness of our graceless age and longs for golf at least to remain a silent, stodgy bastion of reserve.
Jake, Patrick, give me your take on the Fried Chicken Incident and the future of golf.
All good questions, Hampton. Let's take 'em one at a time.
— No, Sergio should not be excused for saying he would serve fried chicken if a black man—in this case, Tiger—came over to his house. Racist or not, Sergio's undeniably a moronic, underachieving whiner who's come up short in every big tournament in his career and is best left alone to cry in the corner.
— Tiger's never really had a rival, not even when Phil Mickelson was winning three of eight majors from 2004-2006. Mickelson has never beaten Tiger down the stretch in a major, and David Duval and Vijay Singh didn't either. We can only hope that Rory McIlroy capitalizes on his vast potential and becomes a worthy foil to Tiger for the next few years.
— Public sniping in general is bad for golf, and not only because it comes off as a lame attempt to attract eyeballs and Page Six headlines. Simply put, golf sucks at scandals, at least ones that don't involve Ambien, broken car windows, and Perkins hostesses. They are invariably nastier and pettier than their counterparts in other sports and often devolve into inappropriate, even racist invective. Take Sergio flipping off the gallery at Bethpage on Long Island during the 2002 U.S. Open after the fans ragged his endless pre-shot waggles, then moaning at a post-second round news conference that the conditions would have been poor enough to stop play had Tiger been on the course. Or the Zoeller incident, which went from "amusing" to "uncomfortable" to "blatantly racist" in about five seconds. The best "scandals" from golf's last 15 years have come when golf peons (Stephen Ames, Rory Sabbatini) have challenged Tiger's ability and then been blown away on the course. Honestly, "9-and-8" is the best controversy-related line uttered in the last decade of golf (Tiger's off-course dalliances notwithstanding).
Golf sucks at scandals, at least ones that don't involve Ambien, broken car windows, and Perkins hostesses.
The recent defamation suit against the PGA Tour filed by Singh—he of the Tiger Who? mini-scandal—is a classic example of a scandal done badly. Singh sued after PGA Tour officials botched a test of the Fijian golfer for using deer antler spray, but legal experts have said he has no chance of prevailing. As ESPN's Lester Munson put it, "As he continues with his career, instead of mentions of his 34 Tour wins including three majors, he will now face in media accounts and in the galleries routine use of the adjective 'litigious' and the embarrassing phrase 'deer antler spray.'"