Tour and News

Fine sends right message to Tiger and rest of golf's spitters

Photo: Kamran Jebreili/AP

Tiger Woods was fined an undisclosed amount for spitting on a green during his final round at the Dubai Desert Classic.

This has to be the most important golf news story that the AP will move all month:

VIRGINIA WATER, England (AP) — Tiger Woods has been fined by the European Tour for spitting during the final round of the Dubai Desert Classic.

The tour says tournament director Mike Stewart reviewed the incident, which took place Sunday on the 12th green, and 'there has been a breach' of conduct. The tour would not disclose the amount of the fine.

Yes, Virginia, there are still standards, somewhere, and in the interest of being able to walk across saliva-free greens, golfers everywhere should applaud this long overdue move by the European Tour. If U.S. Tour officials had any true sense of golfing decorum, they would be doing exactly the same thing, handing out citations like meter maids in Beverly Hills.

The essence of golf has two parts: getting the ball into distant holes in the fewest strokes possible, which Tiger Woods in his prime did better than anybody ever, and showing respect for your playing partners and your playing field while doing it. The two are linked. Woods has been raked over the coals for years for being a surly, club-throwing, spittin'-and-cussin' playing partner. Much of that has been ridiculously overblown. But the fact is, when it comes to on-course comportment, he has not remotely followed in the steps of his trailblazer, Jack Nicklaus. Jack didn't spit on the course. Arnold Palmer didn't spit on the course. Snead and Hogan and Nelson didn't spit on the course. Mickey Wright? Nancy Lopez? Annika Sorenstam? Absolutely no chance.

In the '80s, I caddied some on Tour. Back then, many more players than today chewed tobacco or smoked cigarettes while playing. (There was more drinking on the course, too.) If guys were going to spit, they did it discreetly, underneath a tree or in a water cup. No fan should ever see spit coming out of a player's mouth. It's uncouth, and it's unsanitary.

Tiger is by no means the only spitter out there. It's open season these days. Have at it, boys — fill the pool! Boo Weekley, I love him, but get a spittoon, brother. Garcia, Singh & Daly is not an international law firm; it's a collection of world-class international golf-course spitters. Rory Sabbatini and Scott Verplank, get a hankie or something. Jhonattan Vegas? Not a spitter. Another thing to like about the guy.

I'm not sure why there's so much more spitting today than there used to be. There's more golf on TV, so you see more. That's probably part of it. But I'm guessing Tiger made it legit for others. Tiger has suffered from allergies for years and has used that as an excuse to explain his spitting. That doesn't fly. He could still spit discreetly if that's what he wanted to do. His spitting increases with his frustration; he spits in disgust when he's playing poorly. Would he spit in his mother's garden? He would not. He should take that same view when he plays Augusta National or anywhere else. These courses are somebody's garden.

Woods acknowledged as much on Monday afternoon. "The Euro Tour is right — it was inconsiderate to spit like that and I know better," Woods said on Twittter. "Just wasn't thinking and want to say I'm sorry."

In baseball, they spit. In football, they spit. In boxing, in the corner, they spit like crazy. The golfers want to feel like they're real jocks, too. They want to spit. The fact is that golfers are real jocks. They're athletes. But the players' decorum is what makes golf golf. Golfers leave traps in better condition than when they entered them. Golfers call penalties on themselves. Golfers help their playing partners find MIA golf balls. Golfers don't spit, or at least they shouldn't. It's rude to the golfers coming after them, and it's unattractive to the fans. If they must do it, they should find the right place — an out-of-the-way spot, not normally in play. The green should always be off limits.

Years ago, I was caddying for a golfer named Peter Teravainen in a European Tour event in Spain. He yanked one wildly into the woods, and when we got to the ball it was up against a tree, sitting in a puddle of urine that had been recently deposited by the Irish golfer Ronan Rafferty. Peter was upset, but not unduly so. Rafferty had followed the longstanding golfing custom of finding a remote spot.

On Sunday in Dubai, and on many other days in many other places, Tiger Woods has not.

See what our experts had to say about Tiger's spitting incident in this week's PGA Tour Confidential roundtable.

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