Aaron Rodgers, 'Hatgate,' and a careless employee: Golf's biggest turkeys from 2023
There were so many great stories in golf this year from Michael Block to George Bryan to Lilia Vu. Well, this article is not about any of those great stories. Instead, it's time to give out some turkeys in our annual Thanksgiving tradition that dates back to 2012. Some names on this list are return offenders (Sorry, Zinger) and some are fresh faces, but all gave us some giant golf gaffes in 2023.
We've stayed away from anything too serious—although sandbagging is no laughing matter!—to serve up some of the miscues we'll remember most from an eventful year. So happy Thanksgiving to all, including everyone on this list. Actually, especially to those on this list for giving us some fun stuff to talk about. And without further ado, turkey is served!
Aaron Rodgers: We've knocked Rodgers a lot for winning the pro-am portion of the AT&T Celebrity Pro-Am with a 10 handicap, but he deserves one more QB knockdown. Especially with PGA Tour winner Keith Mitchell calling it "crap" and Josh Allen, who finished fourth alongside Mitchell, telling everyone that Rodgers "sandbagged the world" in addition to literally giving a thumbs down.
Not to mention his impressive past performances in The Match. A 10?! The guy is more full of sand than Pebble Beach itself! To be fair to Rodgers, we could also assess a turkey to whomever at the tournament assigned him that handicap or let him keep it, but like in football, ultimately, the blame falls on the signal caller.
Tom Whitney: It was a fantastic season for this former Air Force man and nuclear ballistic missile operator as he earned his PGA Tour card for the first time. Which is why we don't feel nearly as bad about reminding Tom—and everyone else—about him missing the shortest putt in golf history at the NV5 Invitational:
That is tough to watch. But it led to a great call by the guys at Barstool Sports. On the flip side . . .
Paul Azinger: The (former) NBC announcer is back on our list. Look, it's tough being in the booth for hours at a time, but Golf Twitter had a field day with Zinger just about every day he called golf. If we had to single out one moment, though, it would be with his call of Wyndham Clark attempting to get up and down on the par-3 ninth hole at LACC during the final round of the U.S. Open. First, Azinger said it would be impossible for Clark to get his chip within 10 feet of the hole. Wrong. Then he said Clark had missed a slope he needed to hit. Wrong again. Then he continued to say Clark had missed said slope even as millions of people saw the ball perfectly rolling down said slope toward the hole.
It was really wild. Anyway, the result was Clark's ball rolling out to about five feet and him making a huge par save on his way to winning his first major. Oh, and in somewhat related news, Azinger's five-year contract was NOT renewed by NBC Sports at the end of the year. Speaking of that tournament . . .
LACC/USGA: All those letters combined to create the quietest U.S. Open of the modern era. While Los Angeles Country Club is no doubt a terrific golf course, its terrain led to fewer fans being allowed on property. And as if that wasn't bad enough, the majority of the 23,000 daily tickets went to the muckety mucks in suites and hospitality tents, and of the remaining 9,000, half were snatched up by LACC members (who reportedly tried to buy even more) to ensure they'd have fewer unobstructed views.
"Very poor," 2022 U.S. Open champ Matt Fitzpatrick said of the atmosphere. "It’s disappointing on the USGA side." We agree, Matt. Hopefully next year's U.S. Open at Pinehurst is actually, you know, open to the public.
Rory McIlroy and Joe LaCava: Really, 'Hatgate' as a whole was pretty embarrassing. Not that we're complaining since it provided some drama (AKA spicy content) that the 2023 Ryder Cup was otherwise lacking. But we're giving turkeys to the two main participants for their roles.
To start, LaCava looked very foolish waving his hat around in the middle of the green and getting in the way of Rory. That being said, he's one of the nicest guys around, and McIlroy brushed off multiple apology attempts and was still so heated when he left the course that Saturday that he unleashed a profanity-laden tirade and needed to be held back by teammate Shane Lowry. It was just a bit of an overreaction. But again, not that we're complaining. Nor are we mad about McIlroy calling Patrick Cantlay a "d*ck" nearly two months later. Spicy!
John Daly/David Duval: To be fair, this pairing of past British Open champs at the Zurich Classic was a combined 107 years old when they teed off. So when you're that long in the tooth you're going to be a longshot in a PGA Tour event. But not only did they finish dead last through two rounds, they finished dead last by 12 shots.
And the next team featured a former military man who had made just one cut in 28 starts on something called the GPro Tour playing on a sponsor exemption. We're guessing Double D and JD won't tee it up together in 2024. While we're on the subject of star-studded teams . . .
Bubba Watson: The two-time Masters champ compared LIV Golf's 4Aces to the Yankees and the Cowboys in the most clownish quote of the year. You've got to read the entire thing for yourself:
"Everybody knows the Aces." Ten months later and it's still laugh-out-loud funny. As is the parody song it inspired from the great Sam Harrop:
Watson often likes to say "You're welcome," and in this case it's warranted. Thanks for the laughs, Bubba.
Alejandro Tosti: Golf fans are going to see a lot more of this University of Florida product in 2024 after he earned his PGA Tour card with a stellar season on the Korn Ferry Tour, but they didn't see him at all at this year's Albertsons Boise Open after he was forced to WD over a "disciplinary reason."
According to Ryan French, AKA Monday Q Info on Twitter, “this comes after numerous alleged incidents throughout the season that have led to him being suspended.” In other words, it seems like this guy is a bit of a hothead. And you've got to really lose your cool to get kicked out of a tournament. Hopefully he learned his lesson, because there will be a LOT more cameras on him next season.
Thomas Rivera: The name might not ring a bell, but this guy wasn't just forced to leave a tournament, he was sent home from his job for good. The reason? He was playing golf during work hours. Of course, we have a soft spot for such an activity, but as a government employee—a utility coordinator with San Antonio's public works department—you've got to be extra careful. And Thomas obviously wasn't because he was confronted by a freaking NEWS TEAM about it.
That's tough. Not only did they have proof of him playing a dozen times during work hours, but one of his friends even posted on Facebook a photo of Thomas on the course from one of those times. Needless to say, taxpayers weren't too pleased about it. The best part of the report is Rivera still somehow denying it by blaming it on friends using his name to play golf and social media "tags." While we feel bad about him losing his job (OK, so this one got a bit serious), this story is important to share because it makes all of us golfers out there look bad. So if you're going to play hooky, please do so carefully.
Anne Van Dam: It was another year filled with airline horror stories of broken golf clubs, but this Ladies European Tour winner managed to break her driver on the way to the first hole of a sudden-death playoff at the KPMG Women's Irish Open. Van Dam wasn't driving the cart, but she did direct where to go and drop the gallery rope too early, causing it to snap her most important club at the worst possible time:
Just a wild, unfortunate scene. Van Dam used her 3-wood instead and actually gave herself a great look at eagle, but she missed to lose in brutal fashion.
Carlos Sainz: Speaking of breaking things, how about the Spanish Formula One driver destroying the trophy after claiming the Netflix Cup with Justin Thomas?
Now that was definitely all his fault, and that trophy might need an entire pit crew to fix. Sainz may not celebrate Thanksgiving in his native Spain, but we're still sending him home with a turkey.
Joost Luiten: A late edition! The Dutch golfer threw a driver into a tree at the DP World Tour Championship and it got stuck. Then he tried to get it down by tossing two other clubs into the tree for some reason. And, predictably, both of those clubs got stuck. You have to see it to believe it:
Incredible. Of course, there's an easy lesson to learn from this turkey, kids. Don't throw golf clubs into trees. For any reason.