The Golf Life | Mr. XMarch 8, 2016

Undercover Tour Pro: What It's Like Getting Fined By The PGA Tour

I was being fined $2,500 for “conduct unbecoming of a professional.”
Illustration by Gary Taxali

They get us out here for everything. Swearing, slamming clubs, confronting spectators, saying something critical about another player. How you spit.

I understand why. We have fans and a big television audience, sponsors, and so it's probably a good thing we're not screaming at officials and kicking over port-a-potties, walking down fairways dropping F-bombs as far as sound will travel.

But let's remind ourselves: We're playing a sport outdoors, and there's emotion involved. When I tap in for a quad or do something similarly infuriating, I can get pretty hot. Deep down, maybe just as hot as a player in the NFL, where they fine only for "excessive profanity." Yes, I feel a strong urge to call myself a name and look for a pinecone to smash. If I don't find one, I can restrain myself from going after a tee marker or a ground microphone, though not all guys do. (Eh, Sergio?)

When I was a teenager, my friends and I laughed and cussed at every other shot.

In high school golf, I could let the entire course know when I made a double. I was a bit out of hand. Now that I'm that same kid grown up and polished, my game's a hundred times better, but I do wonder if I've lost a little of the competitive edge that comes with wearing that kind of intensity.

I've been fined only twice in my career, which isn't bad considering I've been out here almost a decade. I keep my curse words under my breath and save most of them for Thursday and Friday rounds when no one's following our group. The first time I got fined, it was for the word that rhymes with "hitch." Either my ball or the cup was a son of one—I didn't really make it clear. I just remember that I was near the lead on a Friday, and after I missed about an 18-incher, I just filled my lungs and let it out.

The tour sent a letter to my house. I was being fined $2,500 for "conduct unbecoming of a professional." I think it was the next day that Andy Pazder, the chief of operations on the PGA Tour, called me on the phone. He wasn't mad. He was very polite, businesslike, and just ran through the protocols. If I wanted to make an appeal, I had two weeks to do so. Otherwise, I was to send a check. All PGA Tour fines go to charity. Two grand or 20, it all hurts. Sure, we make a lot of money, but you never know when you might be back on the mini-tours.

My second fine was for being short to a volunteer. I had hit a drive into the rough, and the guy who planted the little yellow flag by it felt compelled to intercept me before I got there and say, "Oh, man, you're not going to like that lie."

Now I really appreciate volunteers. These people sacrifice their vacation days to work for free, and our events couldn't function without them. They love the game, and they put in long hours just so they can get a little closer to us. But I'm one of the best players in the world. I don't need some 20-handicap explaining what a ball nestled in Kikuyu means for me. And I told him so in some colorful language.

Some of the guys out here think disciplinary fines should be made public, to ensure there's no preferential treatment. Me, I get why the tour keeps them secret—to protect our image—and I'm cool with that. Though I told everybody I knew my story with the volunteer, because I hit the next shot to 12 feet and made the putt.