The PGA Tour is full of genuinely good-natured athletes who usually treat fans with respect and generosity. One day at Firestone last week, Phil Mickelson spent 60 minutes signing autographs after his round. Yes, one hour nonstop with a Sharpie. That's not unusual for Mickelson.
Pat Perez is no Phil Mickelson. In fact, Perez is just the opposite of Phil Mickelson. Perez is a temper-tantrum machine and an embarrassment to the PGA Tour. He mopes around the course as if he's being punished. He has a temper that is second to none. Once, Perez's behavior got so out of control that his father tried to intervene. "I told him the F-word and the tantrums had to stop," Tony Perez told his son, according to a Golf World interview in 2003. "I told him his behavior was hurting his mother and me. We hear our friends talking about it, and I cringe."
Perez didn't heed his father's advice. Yes, Perez has, at times, spoken about controlling his anger and emotions, but there's been little progress. Sunday at the Reno-Tahoe Open, Perez had an outburst that should be the last straw. The Tour should levy a huge fine and give Perez and ultimatum: clean up your act or you can't play.
Here's what happened. Perez and Scott Piercy were battling down the stretch for the title in Reno. Perez was in the penultimate group, just ahead of Piercy. Perez missed an eight-foot birdie putt at 18 that would've tied him with Piercy for the lead. After missing the putt, Perez stood near the 18th green to watch Piercy finish. Perez was visibly steaming, but he was holding out hope that Piercy might bogey to force a playoff.
When Piercy reached the green at the par-5 18th in regulation, Perez stormed away from the green. Perez must've figured that Piercy, who was 29 feet from the hole, would two-putt for the win, which he did.
Perez stomped up a cart path and began his tantrum by ripping a water bottle from his pocket and slamming it onto the ground. A few feet later, he passed two little boys. Both were asking for autographs, and one was also holding out a water bottle for Perez. Visibly angry, Perez rushed past the boys without even acknowledging their presence. A few feet later, Perez ripped the bottom of his shirt from his pants and slammed his golf glove onto the cart path.
Unknown to Perez, Golf Channel showed the entire tantrum live. Later, the video ended up on YouTube, but has since been taken down. This morning, Perez offered a half-baked apology on Twitter: "Yeah. Was a dick move. I apologize for my actions. Had a lot of emotions going yesterday when I got done. Unprofessional." Later in the day, he tweeted again: "Everyone. Someone please help me find that kid!! Got something big for him. Thanks. Start the search in Reno."
But the damage was done. The world had seen how PGA Tour players react after they earn $324,000 and finish second in a tournament.
It would be easy to forgive Perez if his outburst was an isolated incident. But it was not.
I have a 7-year-old son who is about the same size as the boys at the Reno-Tahoe Open. My son idolizes some professional athletes, including Tour players. He loves chasing autographs. I hope that my son never runs into Pat Perez. Not anytime soon, anyway.
Maybe Perez will finally learn his lesson. Maybe he'll listen to his father and jettison the temper. He's only 35. He has time.