The Interviews They'd Like Back
Bad jokes, snubs, and moments of brutal honesty from throughout golf history that have merited a mulligan
October 24, 2014
Ted Bishop, 2014
It wasn't an interview, but the PGA of America president took to social media twice to make sexist comments toward Ian Poulter. The British golfer had been critical of the Ryder Cup captaincies of Tom Watson and Nick Faldo and Bishop injected himself into the conversation by calling Poulter a "lil girl" on Twitter and saying he "sounds like a little school girl squealing during recess" on Facebook. Bishop took down the posts and issued an apology, but it was too late. The PGA voted to remove him "from office for insensitive gender-based statements" the following day. Bishop had less than a month remaining on his two-year term.
Sergio Garcia, 2013
The longtime feud between Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods was reignited thanks to an incident during the third round of the Players in which Garcia blamed Woods for causing the crowd to stir as he was about to hit on the second hole. The spat dragged out for the next couple weeks as both players made comments expressing their dislike for each other, but then at a European Tour awards dinner, Garcia crossed the line. Asked if he would invite Woods over for dinner during the U.S. Open, he responded: "We will have him round every night. We will serve fried chicken." If you feel like you've heard this one before. . .
Fuzzy Zoeller, 1997
If there wasn't video evidence of it, one might not believe that Zoeller could be so careless. But there the two-time major champion was, calling Woods -- who was on his way to becoming the youngest Masters champion ever -- a "little boy" and telling reporters to sway him from serving fried chicken "or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve" at the following year's champions dinner. Zoeller, always known as a jokester, apologized and said his comments were in jest. Woods claimed the two made up, but the popular Fuzzy took a P.R. beating and lost lucrative sponsor deals from K-Mart and Dunlop.
Tiger Woods, 2012
A pre-tournament press conference at the Honda Classic got pretty uncomfortable when Woods was asked about Hank Haney's new bookabout his time coaching the 14-time major winner. After deflecting two early questions and saying he wouldn't comment on it, Woods got snippy when Golfweek's Alex Miceli asked a third. The awkward exchange ended with Woods forcing a smile and telling the reporter to "have a good day."
Steve Williams, 2011
Steve Williams made his anger toward former boss Tiger Woods known with a lengthy interview after winning on Adam Scott's bag for the first time at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in August. But when he accepted a mock award for that showing at a caddies roast three months later during the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, the spurned looper went way over the line. During his acceptance speech, Williams said, "It was my aim to shove it right up that black a------." Williams apologized shortly after on his website and said he didn't mean the comment to be taken as being racist.
Bubba Watson, 2011
You know that stereotype of the "ugly American"? Well, Bubba didn't do anything to make that go away on this particular trip abroad. Playing in the French Open, the long-hitting lefty referred to the Eiffel Tower as "the big tower," the Arc de Triomphe as the "archway," and the Louvre as that building that "starts with an 'L.'" But it got worse. Following a second straight 74 to miss the cut in a tournament with a weak field, Watson blamed his performance on tournament security and crowds. "It's different for me, there's cameras, there's phones, there's everything. I don't know which holes to walk through; there are no ropes. It's something I'm not used to, I'm not comfortable with."
Vijay Singh, 2003
Granted, Singh was never the cuddliest of players to begin with, but he was alienated even further when he was quoted by an Associated Press reporter saying he hoped Annika Sorenstam missed the cut when she made her celebrated appearance in the PGA Tour's Bank of America Colonial in 2003. ''Why?" Singh said. "Because she doesn't belong out here.'' Never mind that Singh claims he was misquoted, or that he was uttering what a lot of players might have been thinking privately. It was still part of the reason the public never embraced the hard-working Singh, even when he reached the top spot in the world ranking a year later.
Tiger Woods, 1997
By the standards of what would come later, Tiger Woods telling a few off color jokes to a magazine writer seems fairly quaint. But back when Woods was hailed as everything from the new face of golf to a future world leader, the racy side revealed to Charles Pierce in GQ was a marked departure from his all-American image. Even Woods realized as much as soon as the words left his mouth. "Hey, you can't write this," he told Pierce during their interview. "Too late," Pierce responded. It was an eye-opening story, but really, the people hurt by Woods' comments the most were members of the media. Because from then on, Woods always had a his guard up in interviews.
Hall Thompson, 1990
With the PGA Championship set to come to Shoal Creek in Birmingham, Al., that year, the club's founder agreed to an interview with Joan Mazzolini, 29, a general-assignment reporter for the Birmingham Post-Herald about exclusionary practices at Birmingham clubs. That's when Thompson uttered a statement that inadvertently helped usher in a new era in golf: "We don't discriminate in every other area except the blacks." While Thompson was summarily castigated -- and he not surpisingly said he was misquoted -- the interview ended up doing more good than harm. In the months and years that followed, most of golf's governing bodies revised their policies for tournament sites, saying they would no longer be played at venues with exclusionary policies. Even Shoal Creek relented, letting in its first black member that same year. Now, two decades later, former U.S. secretary of state Condoleeza Rice, a daughter of segregated Birmingham, counts Shoal Creek among her club memberships.
Ben Wright, 1995
A respected, colorful commentator for CBS Sports, Wright, gave an interview with a Wilmington, Del., newspaper reporter prior to the LPGA Championship that would destroy his career. Among Wright's comments to Valerie Helmbreck of the Wilmington News-Journal was that "lesbians in the sport hurt women's golf," and that, "women are handicapped by having boobs." Wright initially tried to deny the comments, but when Helmbreck substantiated the quotes with recorded evidence, the consequences were severe. In addition to losing his post at CBS, Wright fell into a tailspin of rage and depression that eventually led to a stint in the Betty Ford Center. "I was so bloody stupid; stupid, naive and weak," Wright told Jaime Diaz in 1998. "A day doesn't go by that I don't regret how I reacted."
Dave Hill, 1970
Hill finished second to Tony Jacklin in the 1970 U.S. Open at Hazeltine, but he is remembered more for his memorable zingers about the course that week. Asked what Hazeltine needed, Hill told reporters, "Eighty acres of corn and a few cows. They ruined a good farm when they built this course...If I had to play this course every day for fun, I'd find me another game. The architect [Robert Trent Jones Snr] had the blueprints upside down. My two kids could lay out a better golf course than that." His press room shtick, which he admitted later came on the heels of four vodka tonics, was a hit with the golf writers, but not the fans who "mooed" him over the final two rounds of the tournament. Commissioner Joseph C. Dey wasn't impressed, either. He fined Hill $150 for "conduct unbecoming a professional."
Earl Woods, 1996
On the occasion of his son winning the 1996 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, the late Earl Woods espoused on Tiger's influential powers in Gary Smith's cover story. "Tiger will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity," Earl says. "He's the bridge between the East and the West. There is no limit because he has the guidance. I don't know yet exactly what form this will take. But he is the Chosen One. He'll have the power to impact nations. Not people. Nations. The world is just getting a taste of his power." While Woods' global reach has indeed exceeded that of any other athlete, the comparisons to the likes of Gandhi and Nelson Mandela have proven comically off base. Even worse for Woods, with virtually every one of his missteps -- from thrown clubs to extramarital affairs -- there have been reminders of his father's bold prediction.
Ben Hogan, 1940
Hogan may never have been known as the friendliest interview, but he certainly was one of the most honest. That came out during a radio chat on the eve of a playoff between himself and Byron Nelson at the 1940 Texas Open. With Lord Byron sitting next to him, Hogan blurted out "Byron's got a good game, but it'd be a lot better if he'd practice. He's too lazy to practice." A surprised Nelson took offense before beating Hogan in the playoff. Many feel the statement also wound up straining the friendship between the two, and made Hogan even more guarded in future interviews.
Stephen Ames, 2006
At the 2006 Accenture Match Play Championship, Stephen Ames snuck in as the last man in the 64-man field. Looking back, he probably wishes he had never qualified. On the eve of his first-round match with top-seeded Tiger Woods, Ames said, "Anything can happen, especially where he's hitting the ball." Big mistake. An extra-motivated Woods won the first nine holes and closed the match out on No. 10, as the Canadian became another casualty on the list of defeated opponents who dared question Woods. The 9-and-8 drubbing is a record at the event that will be tough for anyone to ever equal.
Mark Steinberg, 2010
Here's a basic rule to live by: when you're the agent for a world-famous, exorbitantly wealthy athlete who happens to be embroiled in a sex scandal, it's best to pick your spots when asking for sympathy. Steinberg found this out the hard way when the New York Times contacted the agent about his client Tiger Woods' dealings with a controversial doctor. Adamant that Woods' dealings with Dr. Anthony Galea were for legitimate medical procedures and not for the use of performance-enhancing drugs, Steinberg pleaded, "Let's please give the kid a break." The request ended up having the reverse effect, with the press using Steinberg's words to pile on Woods even more.
Sandy Lyle, 2009
When is honesty not the best policy? Perhaps when you're talking to the British tabloids days before the start of the Open Championship. So it was with Sandy Lyle, who, when asked about being bypassed for the European Ryder Cup captaincy, said his own transgressions were nothing compared to those of the man chosen, Colin Montgomerie. When Lyle accused Montgomerie of a form of cheating, a brief firestorm ensued. And when he tried to apologize, he seemed to dig himself an even bigger hole. "It was one of his mistakes," Lyle said of Montgomerie in the ill-fated apology. "I didn't make him do that mistake, it was his mistake and it will probably live with him for the rest of his life; it'll be cropping up."
Paul Casey, 2004
The Ryder Cup is no time for nuance. This, Casey learned when he said that the European players' attitude toward their American counterparts that year at Oakland Hills was one of utter disdain. "We properly hate them," he told the Sunday Times of London. "We wanted to beat them as badly as possible." Later, Casey, who lived in America, and had an American coach and girlfriend, claimed that he and his European teammates took on that attitude only to rile themselves up. Stilll, one British tabloid had enough to run with to feature the headline, "Americans are stupid. I hate them." So bad was the fallout for Casey that in the years that followed, it was the rare story about him that didn't reference his incendiary quote.
Scott McCarron, 2010
When you use golf's "c" word, it's going to be news regardless. When you call out arguably the game's most popular figure, then you have a full-blown controversy. That's what McCarron did when he called out Phil Mickelsonfor using old Ping Eye 2 wedges to get around the new PGA Tour v-groove rule. "It's cheating and I'm appalled Phil has put them in play," McCarron said. He would apologize after Mickelson hinted he might take legal action. Mickelson was doing it more to make a point about the silly loophole in the rule that allowed for it, but the point was made moot soon enough. The controversy was put to rest when the PGA Tour and Ping came to an agreement to no longer allow the clubs.
Jan Stephenson, 2003
Stephenson sent ripples through the golf world when, in an interview with Golf Magazine, she said that the problem with the LPGA Tour could be traced to the demographic of its players. "This is probably going to get me in trouble, but the Asians are killing our tour. Absolutely killing it. Their lack of emotion, their refusal to speak English when they can speak English. They rarely speak ... Our tour is predominantly international and the majority of them are Asian. They've taken it over." Stephenson was right about one thing: the remarks did get her in trouble, drawing rebukes from the tour and players, and causing her to lose endorsement contracts. Five years later, she tried to claim a sort of vindication when the LPGA sought to implement a requirement that players learn English, but that, too, was met with cries of racism.
Ian Poulter, 2011
Leave it to the outspoken Poulter to be the source of early-week controversyat this year's Masters, and this time, it wasn't even by way of a 140-character tweet. Asked what he thought of Tiger Woods' chances at Augusta National, Poulter told a group of British writers he was skeptical Woods could contend. "I don't think he'll finish in the top five," Poulter said. "The shots he was hitting at Doral were very inconsistent. You can't afford to hit shots like that on this golf course and get away with it." Never mind that Poulter went on to say you still couldn't rule Woods out -- or that Woods himself brushed off Poulter's commets with a laugh. The quote still spread like wildfire before the first round, and who knows, may have helped inspire Woods to a season-best T-4 finish.
Sergio Garcia, 2007
After a heartbreaking playoff loss to Padraig Harrington at Carnoustie, Garcia didn't do anything to endear himself to fans. Instead, he alienated more people with a whiny post-round press conference that suggested the golf gods were conspiring against him. To wit: "I should write a book on how not to miss a shot in the playoff and shoot one over." The interview reinforced the Spaniard's reputation for petulance and solidified his standing as one of golf's enigmas, a label he has yet to shed.
Steve Williams, 2008
The on-course rivalry between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson -- the two best players of the past two decades -- has never taken off like many golf fans hoped, but there as still been plenty of tension both inside and outside the ropes between the two stars. Though both players are careful about the comments made about one another, Woods' caddie, Steve Williams, certainly didn't hold back during a 2008 interview. Perhaps bored while his boss was sidelined after surgery to his left knee, Williams spouted off "I wouldn't call Mickelson a great player, cause I hate the (expletive)." Mickelson responded by saying, "After seeing Steve Williams' comments all I could think of was how lucky I am to have a class act like Bones on my bag and representing me." Woods would later apologize to Mickelson and say that Williams felt bad about the incident. Needless to say, the four probably won't ever take any buddy trips together.
Payne Stewart, 1999
The late Stewart was always known as a classy player and opponent, but unfortunately, one of his last public moments was also one of his most lamentable. During a rain delay in what would turn out to be his last tournament, Stewart answered a question in a mock Chinese accent, apparently as a jab to a British Golf commentator Peter Alliss, who had said "Americans are totally different from us. They might as well be Chinese." He apologized after it became a national story. Little did anyone know that just several days later, it would be his tragic plane crash that would grab all the headlines.
Hunter Mahan, 2008
In an interview with Golf Magazine before his first Ryder Cup, Mahan criticized the PGA of America for being more concerned about making money than actually winning, said all the fun had been sucked out of the event for the players, and even compared participating to being "a slave that week." After celebrating a U.S. win in his first time playing the biennial competition, Mahan found out just how miserable a Ryder Cup can be (see: emotional press conference, left). His flubbed chip on the 17th hole in his singles match with Graeme McDowell gave the vaunted prize back to the Europeans and made him an instant goat. His emotional press conference afterward left little doubt that he now recognized the magnitude of the event.
Brendan Steele, 2011
Steele claimed his first PGA Tour event recently at the Valero Texas Open, but he made bigger headlines earlier in the year after playing with Tiger Woods in the Farmers Insurance Open. Asked what he saw in Woods in the final round, Steele responded, "I don't think he gave it everything he had today...Once he kind of saw it wasn't going the right way, I think it didn't have his full attention." The implication was that Woods quit trying, but in the days that followed, Steele said he only meant that Woods was working on his swing over the final round and was no longer thinking about winning. "That's just me being a rookie and not understanding that I needed to be a little more careful," Steele told Golf Digest's Ron Kaspriske. "There was no bad intent." Steele went on to send Woods a letter of apology.