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Swing and miss

A wrong-headed remark recalls the moment that changed the face of golf

NO MULLIGAN: Garcia and Woods at the Players Championship. Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Swing and miss
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Tiger Woods knows the pain of public humiliation. The world’s best golfer has seen the worst of his life’s indiscretions splashed across most every media page around the globe. Nevertheless, when recently given an opportunity to forgive an indiscretion from a fellow competitor, Woods chose to pile on instead.

The occasion arose with a wrong-headed, off-hand comment from Spanish golfer Sergio Garcia. Asked during a European Tour awards dinner last month if he would set aside his longstanding feud with Woods long enough for the pair to have dinner during the U.S. Open, Garcia jokingly said, “We will have him around every night. We will serve fried chicken.”

The remark bore striking resemblance to the ethnic stereotyping gaffe golfer Fuzzy Zoeller made after Woods’ first Masters victory back in 1997, an outcome that changed the face of golf and launched the game’s first global superstar. Commenting on the win and the tradition of Masters champions selecting the menu for the players’ dinner, Zoeller said, “You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year. Got it? Or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve.”

Zoeller’s comments, like Garcia’s, provoked considerable media guffawing and both players quickly apologized. Woods, for his part, came to Zoeller’s defense all those years ago: “His attempt at humor was out of bounds, and I was disappointed by it. But having played golf with Fuzzy, I know he is a jokester; and I have concluded that no personal animosity toward me was intended. I respect Fuzzy as a golfer and as a person and for the many good things he has done for others throughout his career. I know he feels badly about his remarks. We all make mistakes, and it is time to move on. I accept Fuzzy’s apology and hope everyone can now put this behind us.”

Woods’ gracious statement kept the story from blowing too far out of proportion and helped Zoeller rebuild his public image. But 16 years later, Garcia received a far less generous assist. A sign of the times, Woods offered his reaction via Twitter: “The comment that was made wasn’t silly. It was wrong, hurtful and clearly inappropriate. I’m confident that there is real regret that the remark was made. The Players ended nearly two weeks ago and it’s long past time to move on and talk about golf.”

With Zoeller, Woods vouched for the man’s character and accepted his apology. With Garcia, Woods highlighted the misstep and acknowledged the existence of regret. After 16 years and his own bout with public humiliation, has Woods grown less gracious than he was as a 21-year-old phenomenon? Or is it simply that he dislikes Garcia? The feuding pair will be in the field for this month’s U.S. Open. A first-round pairing of them would be nice. Golf hasn’t been this compelling since 1997.

AP in the AP

Professional athletes’ views on marriage are headline news these days. The Associated Press was on the story after Vikings running back Adrian Peterson voiced opposition to same-sex marriage in a radio interview. Said Peterson: “I have relatives who are gay. I’m not biased towards them. I still treat them the same. I love ’em. But again, I’m not with that. That’s not something I believe in. But to each his own.”

Peterson was asked for his views on the subject after the Vikings recently released punter Chris Kluwe, an outspoken advocate for states recognizing marriages between same-sex partners. Minnesota will begin recognizing such marriages Aug. 1.—M.B.

Mark Bergin Mark is a former WORLD reporter.


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