A busy quarter
With Masters on horizon, plenty of happenings in golf so far
Let the record show that in 2019, the angry Twitter mob replaced the polite golf clap. The name Matt Kuchar became synonymous with controversy. Phil Mickelson’s calves became a sensation, “backstopping” became a thing and someone decided match-play holes were no longer “halved,” they were “tied.”
That genius deserves eternal damnation (or at least a buried lie) in St. Andrews’ “Hell Bunker.”
Here’s the crazy thing: The 2019 golf season has barely begun. The first major is next week. A little-bitty course in Augusta, Ga., will do the hosting.
So here’s a top-10 list of all the crazy stuff that went down by April 1, no foolin’:
1. Here’s a tip: Don’t stiff your caddie.
Kuchar ended a four-year PGA Tour drought by winning the Mayakoba Classic in November in Mexico. It all went downhill (but not downwind) from there.
With his regular caddie, John Wood, taking a breather, Kuchar hired a local named David Ortiz. Kuchar’s victory earned him nearly $1.3 million. He and Ortiz had agreed to $4,000 for a top-10 finish, and Kuchar added a $1,000 bonus. He deemed that fair. Ortiz and the public did not. (Tour caddies typically receive up to 10 percent for a win.) Kuchar’s agent eventually offered an additional $15,000, “and it was rejected,” Kuchar said. “That’s when I got stubborn.”
And that’s when Matt Kuchar, previously known as Mr. Nice Guy on tour, started getting catcalls from spectators during rounds. He finally apologized in February and gave Ortiz the full $50,000 he requested.
2. There’s slow, there’s slower and there’s J.B. Holmes.
If there’s anything worse than a slow player, it’s an unrepentant slow player. Or in Holmes’ case, an unrepentant slow player who doesn’t care about ruining the experience for spectators, fellow competitors and TV viewers.
Sports are supposed to be entertainment, right? During the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open, Holmes took 4 minutes, 10 seconds to hit his second shot on a par-5. The kicker: He laid up.
Blame should be shared by the PGA Tour, which should have penalized Holmes for slow play. Apparently Holmes put those tour monitors to sleep with his four-corners routine.
Said Holmes: “When I first got out here (on tour), I was really slow. But I’ve sped up quite a bit.”
I used to rob banks, your honor, but now I just break into cars!
3. Ohhhhhh, Sergio.
The birdie-making (and excuse-making) Spaniard has a green jacket and a seemingly happy marriage, but he has yet to find inner peace. He got disqualified from the Saudi International in February after what tournament officials called “serious misconduct” — causing damage to five greens by turning his putter into a weapon of brass destruction.
Garcia did apologize to his fellow competitors and the public, writing: “I am an emotional player and while I believe that’s one of my biggest strengths, it’s also one of my biggest flaws. I’m focused on working hard to channel that emotion the correct way and to be the best me.”
4. Garcia and Kuchar collaborated on a cringe-worthy video.
The two PR disasters met in the WGC Match Play and managed to start another Twitter grease fire. Garcia missed a 7-foot par putt and then quickly and carelessly tried to backhand the tap-in. That missed too. Kuchar said he didn’t have time to concede the 4-inch putt — and Garcia did not look up to ask.
After losing another hole, Garcia reportedly asked Kuchar to concede a hole after what transpired on No. 7. Kuchar declined, and both got crushed on social media.
On April Fool’s Day, the two posted an edited video featuring a lot of awkward smiles. Kuchar said Garcia “handled the thing extremely well,” while Garcia responded, “I made a mistake and he unfortunately didn’t know how to make up for what happened … but it’s all good. We’re all good.”
Side note: I have an idea for a cold open of a golf version of “Saturday Night Live.”
5. Galleries gone wild.
As Tiger Woods was about to hit a shot at Austin Country Club in the Match Play, caddie Joe LaCava pulled a baseball cap off of a spectator who immediately put up his hands to apologize for whatever he did wrong. (Unlike Woods’ former caddie, the goonish Steve Williams, LaCava has a great reputation.)
Also during that event, Bubba Watson hammered a tee shot and then said to a heckler: “It’s funny how tough you are but then look away. … Everyone is big behind the ropes.”
Perhaps the heckler got the last laugh. Watson lost his match to Kevin Na in unusual fashion: Watson’s blast from a greenside bunker rolled back into his footprint. His second attempt also did not reach the green, and as his yellow ball was rolling back toward him, he scooped up the ball, hopped onto the green and fist-pounded Na to concede.
6. They fought the law, and the law won.
The USGA and PGA Tour instituted 37 new rules. USGA CEO Mike Davis called them “by and large a huge success.” Ummm, no. While hacks like me love the new rule allowing the flagstick to remain in while putting, thus speeding things up, the players have bashed a bunch.
Rickie Fowler made fun of the new drop rule (the ball must be dropped from knee height) by squatting and reaching behind his derriere before dropping his ball.
Others slammed a new rule prohibiting players from replacing a damaged club. Another that drew ire: Adam Schenk was penalized two shots because his caddie stood behind him once he took his stance in a bunker.
After Justin Thomas called the new rules “terrible,” the USGA’s PR Twitter feed responded with this: “Justin, we need to talk. You’ve cancelled every meeting we’ve planned with you, but we are reaching out again. We were at the first 5 events, and tournaments last year, and your tour has had a seat at the table for 7 years. We’d love nothing more than to give you a seat. Call us.”
Thomas called that “inaccurate,” and the USGA backed down: “After further and more direct conversations with @JustinThomas34, we realize he did not avoid a discussion with the USGA nor cancel any meetings.”
7. Walk the walk.
Na amuses galleries by walking in his putts, strolling to the hole before the ball disappears into the cup. While playing with Woods on the island-green 17th at TPC Sawgrass in The Players Championship, Na practically retrieved his ball before it went halfway down.
Woods then imitated him, drawing chuckles from the NBC booth. The players fist-bumped and giggled as they walked to the 18th tee.
8. (No) practice makes perfect.
Woods hit the recovery shot of our dreams in Austin. From his knees. In the middle of a bush. Left-handed. With the club turned over. He punched it to 4 feet. And made the putt.
9. Reality bites.
Here’s how we know golf isn’t scripted. Woods clashed with a Danish pro named Lucas Bjerregaard in a Match Play quarterfinal. And Bjerregaard won. Woods missed a 4-foot putt on No. 18 that could have extended the match, depriving a large TV audience of a playoff.
10. We lost a legend.
Dan Jenkins, who died last month at 90, once wrote that the “golf ball has no sense at all, which is why it has to be given stern lectures constantly, especially during the act of putting.” And when Woods was at his peak, Jenkins opined: “Only two things can stop Tiger — injury or a bad marriage.”
No one will ever do it better. Rest in peace.
Kevin Na, left, and Tiger Woods shared a light moment in The Players Championship.
Sergio Garcia and Matt Kuchar, right, were embroiled in a controversy during their match in last week’s WGC Match Play.