Matt Kuchar, Sergio Garcia and the rest of golf's biggest turkeys from 2019
A lot of great things happened in 2019 for which golf fans should be thankful, from Tiger Woods winning the Masters to Phil Mickelson taking over Twitter. Conversely, there were a lot of things certain players and people associated with the sport would like you to forget about. Unfortunately for them, though, this list exists! And while these embarrassing episodes vary greatly in severity, they’re all memorable in their own unfortunate way. So without further ado, here’s our annual Thanksgiving rundown of the year’s biggest turkeys.
Technically, Kuchar’s questionable payment of Mayakoba local caddie David (El Tucan) Ortiz happened in 2018, but it didn’t become public knowledge until after the new year. From there, the popular tour pro became a punch line (“Moochar,” “El Cheapo,” etc.) for his stingy initial $5,000 payment, and the jokes are still being made at his, um, expense a year later.
Add to this a couple rules controversies and Kuchar’s good-guy reputation was irrevocably tarnished. That said, Kuchar's rules controversies at least were minor considering some of the other stuff that went on …
Ohhh, Billy, Billy, Billy. It’s rare to see a DQ on the PGA Tour Champions, where annuities and red wine flow like water. But it’s also rare to see two rules violations—and two suspect explanations of said rules violations—in a seven-hole stretch. Golf.com’s Michael Bamberger’s digging uncovered a disturbing sequence of events that wound up ending Mayfair’s season at the Invesco QQQ Championship in November. He’s got more explaining to do to his boomer buddies before next season starts.
Trying to earn a tour card during LPGA Q-Series, the veteran pro blatantly broke one of golf’s most basic rules: Do NOT ask a fellow competitor for advice. Dye and playing partner Dewi Weber’s caddie exchanged hand signals regarding club selection, and the violation was pointed out by the group's other member, Christina Kim, which led to a two-stroke penalty for Dye and Weber. Even more stunning was Dye’s defense that she didn’t know about the rule. Amazing considering this rule gets joked about nearly as often as when a ball falls off the tee and someone in your foursome yells, “One!” She also claimed that her peers do the same “all the time”—to which we say, You’re tour pros, right? You should really know better. Speaking of which …
Amy Olson and Ariya Jutanugarn
It’s possible, even likely that Olson and Jutanugarn weren’t trying to break the rules with golf’s most egregious backstopping incident of 2019. But following a year in which this became a heated topic on the PGA Tour—and even a clearer part of the new Rules of Golf—there was no excuse for this pair of players to allow this to happen during a tournament. Making matters worse was their giddy interaction and fist bump following Olson’s chip hitting Jutanugarn’s golf ball, leading to an easy birdie.
You can be sure both will be going out of their way to mark their golf balls on the green going forward.
Normally, we’d side with a victim of a scorecard penalty at a tournament that has electronic scoring, but Gagne’s case was particularly careless. The 22-year-old who shared low amateur at the 2018 U.S. Open was trying to earn a job on the Korn Ferry Tour in the second stage of Q School when he opened with a one-under-par 70 and then completely forgot to sign his scorecard. As a result, Gagne became GONE-ne, getting disqualified. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
Lee Ann Walker
Of all this year’s rules violations, Walker deserves the most leeway considering her appearance in the Senior LPGA Championship came more than a decade after last playing on the LPGA Tour. That being said, she also wound up racking up more penalty strokes than perhaps any golfer in history after being informed she wasn’t allowed to have her caddie line her up on putts, (a new rule in 2019), during her second round. To Walker’s credit, she dutifully recounted all the violations she had committed and was assessed with a staggering 58 penalty strokes, including 42 in the first round alone, bumping her score from 85 to 127. She didn’t make the cut, but, “I may have made the Guinness Book of World Records.” Way to stay positive, Lee Ann.
The Palm Beach Post
Imagine you’re Keith Mitchell, you’ve just won your first PGA Tour title at the Honda Classic, and you see this headline in the local paper the following day:
“NO-NAME CHAMPION”? That’s got to hurt, right? Well, the check for $1.2 million probably softened the sting from this indignity, but imagine if you’re his mom? Poor woman. The Palm Beach Post publicly apologized for the harsh headline the next day, but that didn't help Mrs. Mitchell's hunt for scrapbook material.
Where do we start? Oh, right, Saudi Arabia, where Sergio threw a tantrum in a bunker reminiscent of a child in a sand box:
And that wasn’t even the worst course-related incident he had that week. Garcia also damaged multiple greens and was disqualified for “serious misconduct” under new Rule 1.2a during the third round of the Saudi International. Five months later, another unflattering video of Garcia went viral, this time appearing to show the 2017 Masters champ flinging his driver at his brother and caddie:
For a golfer who has been in the public spotlight for more than two decades, Sergio sure seems to forget that he’s on camera a lot.
Another guy who could learn to be a bit more careful when being recorded, Tiger Woods’ former swing coach drew sharp criticism in June after what were deemed racist and sexist remarks regarding the LPGA on his SiriusXM Radio show. Haney mockingly predicted “a Korean” would win the U.S. Women’s Open and that he couldn’t name six players on the women’s tour, not counting those with the last name “Lee.” Making matters worse, Haney, who never considered how bad his condescending take on the woman’s game from his prominent voice sounded, felt justified when Jeongeun Lee6 (the number being given to her because of the number of “Lee”s on the Korean LPGA Tour) won the event. For someone used to giving tips on how to escape buried lies, Haney couldn’t dig himself out of this situation as easily. His relationship ultimately ended with SiriusXM Radio and he went on to host a new program on iHeartRadio. Moving on to a couple lighter moments involving the LPGA …
Lexi experienced heartbreak at the year’s first two majors, but her worst moment of 2019 came off the course ahead of the final one. After realizing she left her passport in her golf bag, Thompson had the bag—which was packed in a truck with the belongings of 40 other players competing in the Women’s British Open—tracked down by her caddie, causing all the clubs to be delayed in transit by about six hours. Which meant all those players missed out on a full day’s practice waiting on the clubs arrival. “I can’t apologize enough,” Thompson said after. She now knows you also can’t be too careful when traveling internationally.
And one of the LPGA’s rising stars had quite the falling moment during a tournament:
She’s just lucky no video ever surfaced.
We love Eddie, but the European Tour funnyman played things a little close to an actual comedy when he ran out of golf balls while repeatedly trying—and failing—to reach a par 5 in two during the Turkish Airlines Open. The usually loquacious Pepperell stormed off the course, but playing partner Martin Kaymer provided one of the year’s best quotes. “I thought he lost four or five. We are about 80 percent sure it was five, 20 percent four. He was quick, so it was hard to keep track. … I have never seen anything like that before. I only watched it on television, in ‘Tin Cup.’ This is the first time I have seen it live.” Unfortunately, cameras didn’t catch the incident, so unlike “Tin Cup,” which seemingly plays in a loop on Golf Channel, we will never see Eddie’s abrupt exit.
The 2018 Ryder Cupper certainly won’t be representing Team Europe in next year’s event—and it has nothing to do with his golf. Instead, Olesen is facing rather serious charges stemming from a transatlantic flight following the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational in July. Olesen has plead not guilty to sexual assault, being drunk on an airplane, and common assault. He is suspended from the European Tour at least until his trial, which is tentatively scheduled for May 2020, has concluded. In other words, he could still be on this list next year as well.
The brother and caddie of Dustin Johnson matched his older sibling in an embarrassing way: being injured on a rental house flight of stairs. Two years after DJ, riding a three-tournament winning streak, had to withdraw from the Masters due to hurting his back slipping on steps, AJ broke a bone in his left hand carrying golf clubs up some stairs after the final round of the Players Championship in March. “Those stairs, man, they’ll get you,” Dustin Johnson said of his brother’s injury. The saddest part, of course, is that these are two of golf’s best athletes.
In a way, it’s unfair to single out DeChambeau for slow play when he’s far from the only culprit, but he became the new face (Move over, J.B. Holmes!) for this PGA Tour plague, drawing the ire of fans and fellow players, including Brooks Koepka. Most notably, a pair of videos from the Northern Trust at Liberty National went viral, one of which showed DeChambeau taking more than three minutes to play a 70-yard shot, and the other more than two minutes to attempt an eight-foot putt (it didn’t help matters that after all that, he missed).
In the aftermath, a defiant DeChambeau claimed his fast walking mitigated his overall time playing shots and said stats backed up his claim—although, golf’s mad scientist, for once, didn’t provide any actual numbers.
Maggert’s season will be remembered for a spectacular finish that required no putts from 125 yards out to win the PGA Tour Champions finale, but just as stunningly, he needed five stroked on the putting surface from about six feet:
How?! Doesn’t that make you thankful to be able to pick up putts against your regular foursome? That’s tough to watch. But again, Maggert wound up having the last laugh.
That Masters security guard
Look, the poor guy was just trying to do his job and protect Tiger Woods. HOWEVAH, his slip-and-slide tackle nearly ended the GOAT’s career for good.
Thank goodness Woods was able to shake it off, make birdie and, obviously, win the whole freaking thing. Because this bizarre story had a happy ending so it has been mostly forgotten, but we should remember what it taught us. Tiger turns 44 at the end of the year and considering all his various injuries, it’s an old 44. So let’s all pledge to be extra careful around him going forward.
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