It’s a prideful refrain among golfers that the game is about honor, character and a backslapping bonhomie too often absent in other sports and in society at large. To accept this notion as fact requires a certain suspension of critical faculty.
One would have to ignore the pervasive sexism that accords men priority for weekend tee times on the assumption that wifey had all week to play golf if she wasn’t busy doing her nails; the exclusion of African Americans from everywhere but the caddie shack and the clubhouse kitchen; the celebrated clubs where the membership waiting list seems discouragingly long if you keep kosher.
Golf’s bigotry is genteel, dressed up in a natty blue blazer.
Patrick Reed is a rising star on the PGA Tour whose confidence seems inversely proportional to his sportsmanship. He was roundly mocked earlier this year after declaring himself to be among the world’s top five players (he was ranked 20th at the time), and during the Ryder Cup the brash Texan placed his finger to his lips and sarcastically shushed boisterous European fans. Depending on your disposition, these were the immature antics of a blowhard or welcome signs of a fiery competitive passion.
His latest episode will make even his more ardent apologists earn their money.
During last night’s live Golf Channel broadcast of the WGC-HSBC event in China, Reed three-putted his 10th hole, which is not an uncommon occurrence if you’re familiar with his stats. His live-on-air response was this: “Don’t f*****g three-putt you f*****g faggot.”
Golf Channel announcer Frank Nobilo immediately apologized for the airing of Reed’s outburst, which one newspaper reporter charitably noted, “could be interpreted as being homophobic.”
Reed later tweeted an apology, saying his passion to play well got the better of him. Golf can do strange things to men, though a cynic might note that Reed’s Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson has suffered putting woes for 25 years and has yet to be overheard berating himself with homophobic slurs. But then such moments reveal the character of professional sportsmen.
Homophobia in golf doesn’t need the white heat of competition to rear its visor-wearing head. When NBA star Jason Collins came out last year, ESPN analyst Chris Broussard declared homosexuality a “sin” and said gays live “in open rebellion to God.” Bubba Watson, admittedly not known as one of the Tour’s towering intellects, tweeted his thanks to Broussard “for sharing your faith & the Bible. #GodIsGood.”
Nor is it an issue just at the Tour level. Once, a caddie in my group said to me, “I heard Graeme McDowell’s a bender.” “He’s not,” I replied. “But I am.” The caddie shuffled off in mortified silence. A few years ago I played with an accomplished amateur and USGA stalwart who referred to his stock shot as a “fag fade.” I suggested that a douchebag draw would be more appropriate for him. He got the message, quickly, and we’ve since become friendly.
While there have been several prominent gay women on the LPGA Tour, there isn’t a single open homosexual on the PGA Tour, and not many more even within the broader golf world. If I wander down a fairway at Augusta National, it is tantamount to a Pride parade. But then the Tour has never reflected the country at large, even beyond the demographics of gender, race and sexuality. If you rely on the PGA Tour’s image of its “family,” you might conclude that families contain no cheats, drug abusers, wife beaters or other degenerates.
The Tour’s reaction on Reed was typically obtuse: “The PGA Tour's Conduct Unbecoming regulations prohibit the use of obscene language on the golf course,” a spokesman said. “The PGA Tour will deal with this matter internally in accordance with its regulations.”
That’s the same policy of secrecy that rendered the Tour a laughingstock when Dustin Johnson’s drug test failures were revealed this summer. The same policy that suggests fans and sponsors have no right to know if players are guilty of appalling conduct. The same policy that fails to deter misconduct because it removes the fear of public derision. The same policy that implies golf’s unappetizing aspects blight the noble, honorable character of the game only if they’re exposed to public view.
Patrick Reed has unwittingly performed a public service in dragging an ugly issue into the open and forcing the Tour to again reveal its abject lack of transparency. He will be punished for not knowing how that part of our beloved game is played.