Hank Haney apologized for his inane remarks. So let’s move on, right? No, let’s not.

May 30, 2019
Hank Haney

DUBLIN, Ohio — The game, along with the rest of the world, has become a gabfest. Golf is drowning in a sea of words, most of them meaningless. Bryson’s in the interview room, Tiger’s by the 18th green, Coach Urban is doing a TV standup. (So many good “pressers,” so little time!) Down in Charleston, Zinger and Juli and Brad are in the booth, for Fox Sports, at the U.S. Women’s Open. Wordswordswordswordswords. (And golf used to be such a quiet game.) Right here, doing it GOLF.com-style, we’re churning out stories, videos, pods at a breakneck pace. You wanna get heard these days? You better be loud, or something.

On Wednesday, one voice, unfortunately, was clear above the din. It belonged to Hank Haney, Tiger’s former teacher, off the ranch and doing his act on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio (yes, PGA Tour radio, and, no, the Tour has not publicly denounced Haney’s remarks). Haney was trying to be funny but came off dumb instead, predicting a Korean winner down at the Country Club of Charleston, maybe one named Lee, and he wasn’t referring to descendants of Robert E. It was a tired bit, rooted in laziness and white male American privilege, and he’s apologized for it. So let’s move on, right?

Let’s not.

Let’s not because if you actually listen to the women in golf — Judy Rankin, the Hall of Famer who was honored by the Muirfield Village Golf Club this week; Karen Crouse of the New York Times, who has redefined how the sport gets covered; Inbee Park, the LPGA star who won a gold medal for Korea at the Rio Olympics — one theme is clear. Being a woman in this game so dominated by white male American men means you wake up every day with more work to do.

If we’re churning out a torrent of words, here are two best so far this week: and gals.

They were a quick aside from Big Jack, talking about the work done for the betterment of the game by his Captains Club, a committee of golf’s movers and shakers and deep thinkers. Nicklaus described them as “guys who have had a lot of experience — and gals.”

Those two words were important because they were inclusive. They showed that Jack Nicklaus, at 79, who came of age in the 1940s and ‘50s amid the conservative midwestern country-club culture that has done so much to promote white male American privilege, is aware that this game, our game, needs to be more inclusive. Nicklaus is still the most important figure in the game, and his underlying decency is a good example for us all. We in golf who already have secure homes in the game cannot do too much to make golfers and would-be golfers of every possible background feel more welcome. It starts with language. It’s only a start, but it’s a start.

The most striking thing I’ve seen this year on Tour came on Sunday at Riviera. Tiger came off the 18th green on Sunday. He was the unofficial tournament host, the weather was lousy, his play was mediocre, he wasn’t moving well and his week had been weighed down by meetings and public appearances. After climbing the steps to the clubhouse, his long week finally over, he saw a diminutive, dark-skinned young woman. His face lit up and he gave her a heartfelt hug and motioned for her to walk with him. I had no idea who this young woman was and Woods’s spokesman, Glenn Greenspan, later identified her for me. It was Pratima Sherpa, a 19-year-old golfer who grew up in a hut in Nepal. Woods became captivated by her unlikely life story when he heard it and got himself involved in it. On some level, Pratima’s story is his story. It’s about what might happen if you open your arms, literally and figuratively.

These examples are nothing and everything. They’re a start and everybody in this game who is not a white American male is tired of starts, understandably so. But I’d rather you think about Jack’s “and gals” and Tiger’s hug for Pratima this week than Hank Haney’s dumb-and-dumber moment.

Somebody is going to win the Memorial this week and say “thank you” in the direction of Nationwide Insurance, which will pay $1.6 million to the victor. Those will be two important words, too. Meanwhile, the winner of the U.S. Women’s Open this week will receive $1 million from the USGA. Maybe that’s Econ 101 at work, and maybe it’s the sexist and xenophobic nature of the world in general and golf in particular. Last year, when Ariya Jutanugarn won the event at Shoal Creek, she earned $900,000. She’s from Thailand. Consider the odds against her.

Tiger, you know, is more Thai than anything else, if you want to start assigning percentages here. Let’s reconsider him. Imagine if his father had been a retired Thai army officer living in Thailand and his mother a black American woman who had moved there. Imagine if Earl and Tida Phansawat had a single child who was a girl instead of a boy? What would we be watching this weekend? Would Haney have a SiriusXM radio show? Would Pratima Sherpa be playing golf today? How about Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau?

The starting point for inclusion is there but for the grace of god go I. The starting point for inclusion is aren’t I lucky. The starting point for inclusion is words chosen with care, a meaningful hug, an open heart. On the other side, walls will be the death of us. If Haney’s retraction was honest, he’s figuring that out, and doing the rest of us a favor, waking us up.

Michael Bamberger may be reached at [email protected]