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Patrick Reed muttered something offensive to himself. Does that merit punishment?

November 06, 2014

Ted Bishop tweeted something questionable and was ousted as PGA president shortly thereafter. Whether you agree with it or not, you probably grasp the concept that a public figure's public musings can have real consequences.

But what if a public figure is just muttering to himself and it happens to be picked up on television? What if the self-muttering includes a particularly reprehensible phrase? Does that merit punishment as well?

The question can be raised after Patrick Reed was caught on Golf Channel cursing himself with a homophobic slur after a three-putt on the opening hole of the HSBC Champions in China. Had Reed used the same phrase in an interview, or on social media -- or frankly in any exchange with another person -- a response from the PGA Tour would be unquestioned. Where it gets cloudy is that Reed was clearly lashing out only at himself, as scores of golfers, most notably Tiger Woods, have been known to do in fits of frustration (these problems never seem to arise when a guy makes birdie).

Still, the fact it was audible enough to be heard on TV, and that it wasn't just typical "You're an idiot" fare will likely draw a fine from the PGA Tour for "conduct unbecoming a professional." The tour issued a statement on Reed's language.

"The PGA Tour Conduct Unbecoming regulations prohibit the use of obscene language on the golf course," the statement said. "The PGA Tour will deal with this matter internally in accordance with its regulations."

Regardless of what the tour decides, Reed, who seemed to win back some fans at the Ryder Cup, was already taking a beating in the court of social media.