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Tiger Spittin' and Swearin'

Has he gone too far this time or was there ample provocation asks Dermot Gilleece

Posted Feb 14, 2011 by Dermot Gilleece

tiger 4

It's not easy to shock a journalist with language, but it happened to me over breakfast in a Monterey hotel in June 2000.  As I remember it, the time was just before 8.0am and television was transmitting live coverage of the end of the third round in the US Open at Pebble Beach, which had been delayed because of fog.

Main focus, naturally, was on championship leader, Tiger Woods, who suddenly turned the air blue, as they say, when his drive on the treacherous 18th was pulled into the Pacific Ocean.  As the ball disappeared to a watery grave, an angry outburst from the bold Tiger included THAT word.

"You're never going to catch a golfer swearing to a TV camera," observed analyst, Ian Baker-Finch.  "He'd be kicked off the tour."  However, the 1991 Open champion added: "But in the heat of the moment, when the guy is playing for his family's education and he hits a bad shot, it can happen. These guys are human, too.  It has become the way of the world. If I had said THAT as a boy growing up in Australia, I'd have my mouth washed out with soap. Now you hear teenage girls swearing on the street."

And really, don't we get a bit hot under the collar over verbal trifles?  I remember the 1989 Open Championship at Royal Troon where, on the morning after one of the practice days, the "Sun" newspaper reported that spectators, including schoolboys, had been scandalised, nay horrified, by the foul language overheard on the course from Curtis Strange, the reigning US Open champion.  Indeed the righteous tabloid was so concerned by the American's behaviour, that the story carried the memorable headline, "Cursin' Curtis". 

By its very nature, golf tends to produce ill-tempered outbursts which are rarely expressed in such language as drat, darn or golly.  But what happened with Woods during the final round in Dubai last Sunday was an entirely different matter.  As he crouched over a short putt on the 12th green, the former world number one discharged a volley of spit which, frankly, was quite disgusting.

Over the years, television viewers have got used to the image of Woods spitting and cursing, but doing so on a putting green seemed to represent a new low.  It is heartening that the European Tour, through Mike Stewart, took immediate action by finding Woods in breach of their code of conduct.  And the player has apologised, just as he has done in the past, alas.
Let us be clear about what is at issue here. We’re talking about disgusting behaviour which has nothing to do with a player ridding himself of crippling frustration by releasing some well-chosen expletives.    
I happen to be one of those who finds spitting absolutely abhorrent in any circumstance, quite aside from the health issues. And often, while watching Woods, I find myself wondering when he is going to let fly with another volley, like the downstairs tenant waiting for the second shoe to drop.  One imagines he will not appeal whatever fine was imposed by way of punishment.  The TV cameras had him cold, as they say.

Meanwhile, by way of illustrating the harmlessness of verbal outbursts by comparison, I am reminded of a story from Henry Longhurst about a well-known Scottish amateur.  Longhurst reported: "Though a big man, he made the discovery, as people do from time to time, that you can putt remarkably well one-handed, with a little putter about the size of a carpenter's hammer.  As always happens, it lasted splendidly for a while but proved fallible in the end.

"The climax came when he missed a tiddler with it on the ninth green at Muirfield.  Raising himself to his full height, he flung it against the grey stone wall bordering the green. 'You little *******!' he cried. 'Never presume upon my good nature again!'"

Another charming story which Longhurst related about temper on the golf course, had to do with an incident when he, himself, was playing in a fourball with the vicar of Northampton and "a gentleman whose complexion indicated either good living or shortness of temper, or both."

We're informed that the vicar and his partner were in contention until the 17th where, in attempting a short pitch over a greenside bunker, he with the complexion lifted his head and duffed the ball feebly into the sand.  As Longhurst recalled: "The man raised his niblick to heaven. '*******!', he cried, and '*******!' and '*******!'  Then, pulling himself up with a jerk, he began to make embarrassed apologies.  The vicar's reply remains in my mind as though it were yesterday. 'Brother,' he said, slowly and gently. 'The provocation was ample.'"

- Dermot Gilleece

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