Teeing Off Happens With Your Clubs, Not Your Mouth
There’s an old adage that, paraphrased, says it’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.
For the last several weeks, an array of different people in the top circles of professional golf have seen fit to come forward and make various statements that years ago would never have been remotely considered for public dissemination even if privately held.
Let’s rewind the clock. First came the bomb blast from six-time major champion and CBS lead golf analyst Nick Faldo, who said Sergio Garcia was “useless” during the ’08 Ryder Cup matches when Europe, captained by Faldo, lost to the USA. Garcia smartly avoided firing back, and the issue faded on the eve of this year’s Ryder Cup Matches.
Right after the conclusion of this year’s matches at Gleneagles during the post-match team press conference, five-time major champion Phil Mickelson laid the blame for Team USA’s poor performance at the feet of captain Tom Watson without ever uttering the Missourian’s name. “Unfortunately, we have strayed from a winning formula in 2008 for the last three Ryder Cups, and we need to consider maybe getting back to that formula that helped us play our best,” said Lefty.
The implications were as clear as the Europeans’ eighth win in the last 10 Ryder Cup Matches. Clearly, Mickelson deliberately used the forum as a way to show up his captain. One can only wonder if Phil has ever been schooled in how to make your presence and comments known behind the scenes first, before you go public?
Just when you thought all of this hullabaloo was done with, out comes a retaliatory comment from Ian Poulter in penning his autobiography—a bit early given his ongoing career—ironically named “No Limits.” Poulter said Faldo’s comments were nothing less than “sour grapes” and that other European team members view Faldo equally in a far lesser light. The English firebrand went even further in castigating Tom Watson for his poor moves during the recent matches in Scotland.
So what happens?
Once the ball got kicked, it was time for someone to return the favor. Enter into the picture the PGA of America President Ted Bishop—oops—I meant former head of the PGA.
Bishop entered the fray in retorting to Poulter this past Thursday afternoon via Twitter, saying: “Faldo’s record stand by itself. Six majors and all-time (Ryder Cup) points. Yours vs. His? Lil Girl.” Bishop went further by saying via Facebook: “Really? Sounds like a little school girl squealing during recess. C’MON MAN!” Both were later deleted, although Bishop didn’t jump to an apology right away.
Of course Poulter fired back, saying such a statement from the PGA president was “shocking and disappointing.”
Then, late Friday, the PGA of America opted to fire Bishop with just a few weeks to go until his two-year term as president ended.
Hello. Anybody home? Are there any adults in the room?
Golf historically has honored itself by the manner in which the key people within it have behaved themselves. You didn’t see boorish behavior as with so many other sports. Now with social media and the temptation to weigh in at hand, a number of people have decided to fire shots across the bow, demonstrating once again that verbal food fights—prevalent in all areas of life—have now entered the golf domain.
The PGA of America took a pre-emptive move in firing Bishop, although PGA Tour Player Davis Love III said it correctly that Bishop’s comments were simply meant for Poulter and not rooted in any deep-seated bias Bishop has against women playing or entering the game.
Nonetheless, word choice is still word choice, and Bishop serving as president of the PGA of America should have been mindful that his comments weren’t simply going to be deemed his opinion. Keep in mind, the PGA of America also had a clause in its bylaws as late as 1961 stating “Caucasian-only,” for membership in the association, so the association has not exactly had a blemish-free existence.
The PGA Tour—a separate entity that split away from the PGA of America years ago—provided a statement through Commissioner Tim Finchem, which was diplomatically crafted in our ever so politically correct age. “We understand and respect the PGA of America’s decision regarding Ted Bishop … While his remarks on social media were unfortunate and inappropriate, Ted’s apology was heartfelt and sincere. We will always appreciate Ted’s commitment to the game of golf.”
Social media is a megaphone with global implications. One has to wonder if the people using it might pause for a day before hitting the “send” button. My parents used to stress to me that sometimes when angry or upset it’s best to write down your feelings on paper, wait a day or so, and see if you still feel the same way before acting on them. The same holds true when people like Mickelson fail to comprehend that one’s input can be just as appreciated when done behind closed doors—without being so utterly clueless on what class and dignity mean.
Knowing when and how to speak is a sign of maturity. Unfortunately, golf is now less of what it was previously and has become part and parcel of the desire to shoot first and ask questions later mentality. I think of the lessons that fathers such as Deacon Palmer and Charlie Nicklaus imparted to their sons Arnold and Jack, respectively.
Both fathers instilled fierce competitive drive in their sons—but both also instilled the iron-clad belief that when beaten by an opponent to shake the other’s hand and mean it. Etiquette meant something then—it should now.
Today, the game of golf is the loser. It’s long overdue for people to pull back from the desire to hit back verbally and allow others to show their true colors. Keeping one’s mouth shut may not prove you’re not a fool, but as we have witnessed when child-like adults do open their mouths—the desire to wear the court jester outfit has now become their Halloween costume of choice.
M. James Ward, a member of Golf Writer’s Association of America (GWAA) and past member of Met Golf Writer’s Association (MGWA), has reported on golf’s grandest events since 1980 in a variety of forums.