Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Unfortunate Rise of the Petulant Golfer

The golfer that curses himself for a duck hook into the woods has been around since the game was invented.

The golfer that curses himself for being 20 feet right of the pin on #12 at Augusta National has been around since 1997.

tiger woods angry
As the golfing media fell over themselves to praise Jordan Spieth – no doubt deserved for a 20-year old contending for The Masters title and a green jacket – I was disappointed. I wanted to root for the kid. I enjoyed his first victory last year. He certainly has the game.

But for four days, Spieth annoyed me by getting mad at himself. We all get mad playing golf. But the guy that yells at himself or tosses his club to the ground when he has a 20-foot birdie putt? I don’t feel the need to root for that guy. That guy needs to get over it.

You want to celebrate a good shot? Go for it. You want to be Adam Scott and scream at Augusta after holing a putt? That’s competitive fire I want to see. You want to moan about a shot slightly off-center? Not interested.

It was appropriate that Spieth was battling Bubba Watson, another player who can do no wrong in the eyes of the golf media. Me? I’m not a Bubba fan.

I grew up going to the Greater Hartford Open, now known as the Travelers Championship. Last year, Bubba squandered away a fourth-round lead in the Travelers and bottomed out with a terrible tee shot at the tricky Par 3 16th hole. How did Bubba react?

By yelling at and blaming his caddie. Yeah Bubba, it was his fault you dunked it in the water. Watch for yourself.

As with most things in golf, everything – good and bad – can be traced to Tiger Woods.

In 1997, golf changed forever when Tiger Woods won the Masters. Other sports have had defining culture changes, from Magic and Bird entering the NBA or the NHL emerging post-lockout with Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and a television partner that cared. But only golf had that one singular moment when nothing would ever be the same.

For people my age and older, there was a time before Tiger. I was 15 before Tiger Woods rocked Augusta. My childhood was spent with golfers that had personalities. Guys like Fuzzy Zoeller making (non-racist) jokes and Chi-Chi Rodriguez becoming Zorro after birdie putts. Golfers that shared actual honest to goodness feelings after tournaments instead of providing rehearsed, robotic answers. They cried. They laughed. They were human beings.

Tiger Woods, by all accounts, is human. He just never acted like it. But when you’re Tiger Woods and winning The Masters by a dozen strokes, people tend to forgive you for your faults.

So as Tiger dominated for a decade, no one cared that he was a robot. Other than Jack Nicklaus and a few old-timers, there were not many that made a stink about Tiger’s course etiquette. We heard the F-bombs and the curse words. It was part of the game.

But for a long time, it wasn’t. Yes, guys got angry, but they did not make a public spectacle after routine shots or merely average shots. Tiger was different in almost every possible way.

We forgave Tiger for the f-bombs. We didn’t worry when he would drop his club mid-swing. We didn’t mind when he would kick a club. It was the price of greatness.

As I watched the Golf Channel briefly Wednesday night, the same forgiveness was shown to Spieth, as Nick Faldo and Tom Watson gave their blessing to his petulant antics.

It was not a luxury afforded to Tiger in 2009 after his world crumbled. His meltdowns were cause for public debate. Here is Tom Watson complaining about such in 2010 – boy, his tune changes when golf needs a new star. Maybe Tiger’s decorum wasn’t good for the game in 2010. But they never were. And it’s now too late.

For Bubba Watson and Jordan Spieth and a host of others, Tiger Woods is all they’ve ever known. Spieth was only 3 when Tiger won his first major, which means literally his entire life has been the Tiger Woods era. So is it any surprise that he bitches and moans over okay shots like his idol?

There is a lot of good that Tiger Woods brought to golf. He brought more money, more exposure, more tournaments and more excitement. Is the Phil Mickelson narrative even one-tenth as exciting if not for Tiger Woods? How many fewer kids take up the game if not for Tiger Woods’ 2000 run? Is there even a First Tee initiative?

But with the good comes the bad. Tiger Woods took the post-round clich̩ to a new level Рdoing for golf-speak what Jim Tressel did for coach-speak. He has mastered the art of saying nothing. It works for Tiger Woods. It does not work for others.

Likewise, Tiger became the poster child for the petulant golfer. The guy who drops his club in agony because he has a 30-footer for birdie. The player who yells at wind gusts, blames spike marks for missed putts and grades his round. “Yeah I shot a 68 today with my C+ game, so I’m pretty happy.”

Overall, it’s disappointing.

The beauty of golf is – was? – how the individual nature of the sport lets you express yourself however you want. You could be Payne Stewart and wear knickers. You could be Seve Ballesteros and make birdie from a parking lot. You could be John Daly, grip it and rip it.

The beauty of golf is – was? – that you didn’t have to conform. There was no coach telling you want to do. You played golf as you lived life. It was up to you. Your swing, like a guitarist ripping a solo, was an extension of who you were. You didn’t have to act a certain way.

Instead, golfers have gone the way of NASCAR drivers, robots sent here to move product and collect paychecks.

What do you really know about Jordan Spieth or Matt Kuchar? And no, naming their alma mater doesn’t count.

As the new generation of golfers presses on, they take their cues from Tiger Woods. They will say little in post-round interviews. They will be annoyed easily. They will be tough to root for.

The era of Tiger Woods appears to be over. Welcome to the era of the Petulant Golfer. 

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3 comments:

  1. I agree to a point. Think you were too harsh on Bubba, his caddie took the blame afterwards for Hartford.

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    1. Yea, I saw that, but I felt like the caddie had to say that, ya know? Regardless...wasn't a good look for Bubba.

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  2. so totally agree. got to your post by googling "jordan speith i annoying" lol. he has to constantly comment on his shot thinkjng hes so clever. he never shuts the fck up on the course. even when tiger was winning i couldnt stand him. the attitude is not just on the tour its the people you have to play with at your local course as well.

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