GORDON WHITE: Throwing Clubs Shouldn't Be Part of Tiger's Game
Nothing is more annoying on a golf course than someone who throws golf clubs after hitting a poor shot.
A club thrower has lost it and cares little for the safety of fellow competitors.
In my world of golf where friend and foe are not among the world's best golfers, it is simply stupid to throw a club since these golfers should not expect perfection. In fact, members of my golfing set are lucky to have two near perfect shots a round.
But when it comes to the touring pros throwing clubs, that misconduct is a whole different ball of wax. These superb golfers have absolutely no excuse for such loss of control. The penalty can and should be a fine for anyone throwing clubs on the PGA Tour.
But most importantly, such antics on a golf course show a marked disrespect for the game of golf that stands alone in the world of sports as the prime example of a civilized demeanor in athletics.
This gets me around to Tiger Woods, hands down the best golfer in the world today and the man who may eventually be recognized as the greatest golfer in the history of the game. Like millions of other folks, I am always thrilled to see him make those great shots and sink those impossible putts and win so often.
The 33-year-old Woods has spent his life in pursuit of Jack Nicklaus's records, including the 18 major championships. Chances are, if Woods does not have more leg and knee problems or suffer other serious injuries, he will some day surpass the Golden Bear's achievements.
If that happens, does Tiger Woods deserve to be called the greatest golfer of all time, a mantle Nicklaus has rightfully worn for years?
Many people will, with good reason, transfer the moniker, "greatest of all time", from Nicklaus to Woods when and if Tiger wins his 19th major title.
But I will not do so unless Tiger changes his ways.
There are a lot of things that go into making a fine golfer other than just hitting excellent shots time and time again. A lot more goes into making a fine golfer than simply winning. Behavior is as important on the course, in my opinion, as is performance.
I have watched Tiger mostly from the comfort of an easy chair while viewing his exploits on a TV screen. He came along after I retired from the PGA Tour beat although I walked Pinehurst No. 2 with Tiger as he played in both the 1999 and 2005 U.S.Opens.
I did not catch Tiger doing anything untoward during his play at the Quail Hollow Championship a week ago. But I did see Tiger throw a club on two occasions during the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Florida, March 26--29.
Yet Tiger, grumpy at times and out of control when throwing clubs at Bay Hill, still went on to win that event for the sixth time. It was his first victory since taking eight months off for surgery and rehabilitation on his knee.
Tiger slammed his driver at his golf bag a few feet away during the opening round after hitting his tee shot on the par-5 sixth hole at Bay Hill into the lake left of the horse shoe fairway.
Then, in the final round, as he was moving to take the lead, Tiger had a difficult bunker shot at the par-3 14th hole when his drive plugged in the sand. But he blasted out. However, on the slick green, his ball rolled just by the hole and kept going to the far fringe, about 15 feet from the cup.
This annoyed the World's No. 1 player so much that he threw his wedge in the direction of his caddy, Steve Williams, nearly hitting him in the shins. That's no way to treat one of your best friends.
Then Tiger, in full fury, rolled his long putt into the hole to save the par 3 on his way to victory. Why did he need to throw a club?
These most recent incidents of "Club Throwing Tiger" are hardly the first time he has done this in full view of a world wide TV audience.
Since Tiger is not just the world's best known athlete at present but also one of the world's two or three best known and most popular persons, he certainly sets examples for the young people he so publicly and magnanimously champions.
This man has given of his time and possessions, including many millions of dollars, to create schools for disadvantaged boys and girls through the Tiger Woods Foundation.
Tiger may be the leading roll model for millions of kids around the world and he is well aware of it.
Such a person should not behave in a manner that sets a poor example for young people who adore him and dream of emulating him.
Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer have each told his boyhood story about club tossing many times.
Arnold threw a club in disgust one time, and so did Jack.
Arnold's father and Jack's father each told his son something like this: "You ever do that again and you will not play golf again."
That ended club throwing for Arnold and Jack well before they became the highly respected competitive golfers they were as amateur champions and then touring pros. I covered both of those men playing in many tournaments and never once saw Jack or Arnold even lightly flip a club in disgust toward a bag.
Tom Watson, Gary Player, Greg Norman and most other pros did not throw clubs on tour.
The PGA Tour can fine a golfer who throws a club. It is covered under the tour's rule against unsportsmanlike conduct. However, the fine is not a sure thing.
I followed Bill Rogers one day during the 1988 Honda Classic that was then played over the Eagle Trace Club in Coral Springs, Florida. The wind was blowing over 25 miles an hour late in the afternoon when Rogers reached the par-3 17th hole where the left side of the green juts out into a two acre lake.
The hole played only about 160 yards with the tee up a hill above the green.
The wind was blowing stink from Rogers' right. It was so strong that he resorted to using a 4 wood off the tee on such a short par-3 hole.
Rogers' first tee shot went high in the air and was blown way left into the middle of the lake. His second tee shot followed the first one as did his third. Finally, his fourth tee shot managed to stay on the left fringe of the peninsula green, inches from the water.
Rogers, the 1981 British Open champion, was so distraught he let fly with his 4 wood and helicoptered it out over the lake. The club splashed and sank about where his first three tee shots went.
A PGA Tour official happened to be standing with me watching this performance and I immediately asked what Rogers' fine might be.
"Oh, there won't be any punishment for Bill," the official said. "He didn't endanger anyone."
But he surely displayed unsportsmanlike conduct, didn't he?
"Not many folks out here to see this other than you and me," the official answered.
The PGA Tour also has a policy of not announcing to the press or public when it fines a player.
So we may never know if Tiger has been fined for throwing clubs.
Nevertheless, until Tiger manages the proper comportment and convinces me that he has stopped throwing clubs when he is unhappy with a shot, he will not rank up there above Jack Nicklaus in my humble opinion even if he wins two dozen major titles.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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