The 21 Most Controversial Golfers

1 of 21 Stand Badz/PGA Tour
Tiger Woods, 2009-present To be fair, Woods had plenty of critics before he crashed his Cadillac SUV into a tree and a fire hydrant in the early morning hours the day after Thanksgiving. But the ensuing avalanche of news, that Woods was cheating on his wife, Elin, and the parade of publicity-loving mistresses pretty much sealed his fate as golf's villain of the moment. His image has recovered since then and his play, at times, has approached the heights it reached pre-scandal. But a string of injuries, back surgery, and a split with swing coach Sean Foley leave Tiger's golfing future in flux.
2 of 21 Marvin E. Newman/SI
Jack Nicklaus, in the '60s There was nothing outwardly objectionable about Nicklaus or his behavior, but Arnold Palmer's legions of fans were miffed at the new threat to the King's supremacy. They picked on Jack's weight ("Fat Jack"), and the comparatively uninspiring way the new guy from Ohio played the game. Like many players before and after him, Nicklaus had to work his way into the public's hearts.
3 of 21 David Walberg/SI
Vijay Singh, circa 2003 When Annika Sorenstam became the first woman to play a PGA Tour event in 58 years at the 2003 Colonial, it seemed like a quaint, feel-good story. The 32-year-old Swede had so dominated the women's game, it seemed she'd earned the right to try her game on the men's circuit. But then the AP quoted Singh saying, "I hope she misses the cut. Why? Because she doesn't belong out here." Other players, most notably Nick Price, said essentially the same thing, but it was the cantankerous Singh who took the fall. That was one of many feuds in which the sometimes-prickly Singh has been involved.
4 of 21 Jeff Siner/MCT/
Greg Norman He was praised for his gracious handling of his excruciating loss at the 1996 Masters to Nick Faldo, but it didn't last. Fellow Aussie Jack Newton was among those who thought success changed Norman. "I think he needs a few mates in his life," Newton said in 2008. "I feel that he's going to end up a lonely man with no friends." That was around the time that Norman married the former tennis star Chris Evert after a messy divorce from his longtime wife, Laura Andrassy. The jilted Andrassy got a reported $105 million settlement and dismissively said of Norman and Evert that she had "no wishes for them except to say they deserve each other." Norman and Evert have since split and Norman has continued to build on his ultra-successful, worldwide brand. He'll be the analyst alongside Joe Buck when FOX Sports takes over the U.S. Open broadcast next June.
5 of 21 Warren Little/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)
Nick Faldo When U.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger said Faldo had been "a p____" (rhymes with Nick) during his career as one of the game's pre-eminent technicians, Azinger was speaking for many whom Faldo rubbed the wrong way. The princely Englishman fired his swing coach, David Leadbetter, by fax. Faldo was so self-absorbed as a player, Mark Calcavecchia said famously, "Playing with Nick Faldo is like playing by yourself — only slower."
6 of 21 John G. Zimmerman/SI
Ben Hogan Hogan, too, was self-absorbed. (Of course that self-absorption is part of what made these guys great in the first place. Discuss among yourselves.) The famously intimidating "Hawk" didn't do jolly, grip-and-grin golf, and he didn't apologize for it. He dug his game "out of the ground," could freeze an opponent's blood with his icy stare, and bristled at the winning panache of Arnold Palmer. The latter attribute may have sealed Hogan's fate as an unlovable champion, because really, how could you not like Palmer? Only Santa Claus has more fans. Hogan did soften, however, and became more popular with fans after his remarkable recovery from a cataclysmic 1949 car crash.
7 of 21 Bob Martins/SI
1999 U.S. Ryder Cup team When Justin Leonard made his long, snaking putt to clinch the Ryder Cup for the U.S., seemingly the entire American team and their wives and caddies came stampeding onto the green. One problem: Jose Maria Olazabal still had a putt to halve the hole. Having endured abuse from the vocal Boston fans all week, the Europeans were apoplectic at the final indignity, and after Olazabal missed his putt, they fired back in the press. The ill-timed celebration and hurt feelings marked a low point — if not THE low point — in the then-72-year history of the once-cordial biennial exhibition.
8 of 21 Laurent Rebours/AP
1999 European Ryder Cup assistant Sam Torrance The high point of sportsmanship in '99 was Payne Stewart trying to protect opponent Colin Montgomerie from the most outspoken (and over-served) American fans. The low point was probably Europe assistant captain Sam Torrance's incendiary quote as the U.S. side danced all over the 17th green: "And Tom Lehman calls himself a man of God!" It seemed like a cheap shot, since the Ryder Cup isn't about religion, but Torrance stood by the comment as he prepared to lead Europe into the 2001 Cup. Then 9/11 happened, and it all seemed very, very trivial.
9 of 21 Chris Condon/PGA TOUR/Getty Images
Johnny Miller At the 1999 Ryder Cup, the relentlessly candid NBC golf analyst said Justin Leonard looked so out of sorts he should have just stayed home. Leonard's comeback against Jose Maria Olazabal made Miller eat his words. As Tom Lehman's American Ryder Cup team got ready to play the Europeans at the K-Club in Ireland in 2006, Miller said, "This is probably on paper the worst Ryder Cup team we've ever fielded." (He may have been right. The Yanks lost by a record-tying margin, 18.5-9.5.) At the 2008 U.S. Open, the fearless Johnny irked Italian Americans when he said Rocco Mediate looked like "the guy who cleans Tiger's swimming pool," and, "guys with the name of Rocco don't get the trophy, do they?" He later apologized. Miller has continued to launch his barbs from the NBC booth, including this gem when Andrew Loupe was put on the clock for slow play during the third round of the 2014 Valero Texas Open: “If everyone on Tour played like him I’d quit announcing.”
10 of 21 Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Michelle Wie, circa 2005-2007 She charmed at the 2004 Sony Open as a 14-year-old when she shot 72-68 to miss the cut by a stroke. Alas, Wie missed the '05-'07 Sony cuts by miles, WD'd from the '06 John Deere with heat exhaustion, and, in a move that tournament host Annika Sorenstam said lacked "respect and class," Wie withdrew from the '07 Ginn Tribute after going 14 over for her first 16 holes. She cited an injured wrist, but critics cited the LPGA rule that bumps players off the circuit for the rest of the year if they shoot 88 or worse. They seemed to have a point — Wie was spotted beating balls two days later. Having put some distance between herself and her parents, Wie began to get back into the public's good graces when she got a wild-card pick and went 3-0-1 for the 2009 U.S. Solheim Cup team. Her maturation and improved play culminated in two victories in 2014, including the U.S. Women's Open at Pinehurst.
11 of 21 Bob Martin/SI
John Daly The godfather of hillbilly golf, Daly blew up the old idea that golf was all about refinement and restraint. His drinking, smoking, gambling, ex-wives and unchecked impulses have offended many, but he did bring new fans to the golf course. He also cut an album, and gave us at least one wonderful song title: "All my exes wear Rolexes." His 2010 song "Hit It Hard" has gotten play recently on SiriusXM.
12 of 21 Emilio Naranjo/EFE/
Sergio Garcia, in 2002 (and beyond) Everyone loved Garcia's exuberance at the 1999 PGA, but it didn't last. Said one U.S. star after the 2002 Ryder Cup, "We lost to 11 gentlemen and one little boy." Even European captain Sam Torrance got mad when El Nino made light of Torrance having ranked the win behind his marriage and the birth of his child. "One moment here," Sam said to the child star in front of the press. "I tell you one thing: You will have a kid, and you'll know how important it is. It was more important than today." When New York fans jeered his incessant waggling at the '02 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, Garcia flipped them the bird. After he lost the '07 British Open at Carnoustie to Padraig Harrington, Sergio wallowed in self-pity, saying the gods were against him. He criticized Augusta National as "too tricky" in '09 but later apologized. He's had a memorable feud with Tiger but has made up and enjoyed once of the most successful years of his career in 2014.
13 of 21 Bob Martin/SI
Paul Casey, circa 2004 Swept away in Ryder Cup rhetoric, Casey became the victim of a sensationalist headline writer in the U.K., and before he knew it, he had supposedly called Americans stupid (didn't happen) while denigrating the country where he went to college, found his wife and still lives. The massive fall-out included loss of income in the hundreds of thousands for Casey, whose game cratered as he apologized and worked to get back in the good graces of American fans. By the time he did a lengthy Q&A with Golf Magazine in 2008, the whole villain label was a thing of the past.
14 of 21 Angus Murray/SI
Rory Sabbatini Say this for golf's original Rory: He doesn't take the easy way out. When playing partner Ben Crane was plodding along too slowly, Sabbatini left him in the dust. When Tiger Woods was playing mediocre golf by his own lofty standards in 2007, Sabbatini said he looked "more beatable than ever." (Woods responded by stomping Sabbatini 65-74 on Sunday at the WGC-Bridgestone.) "Sabo" wears his confidence and belt buckles like few others on Tour. So? It's said that if you live an honest life, and are true to your ideals above all else, you're bound to rub a few people the wrong way.
15 of 21 David Walberg/SI
Stephen Ames Like Sabbatini, Ames wears his confidence proudly, makes little or no effort to self-censor, and has gotten burned for it, most memorably by tugging on Superman's cape. Ames told the AP before playing Tiger Woods at the 2006 WGC-Accenture Match Play, "Anything can happen, especially where he's hitting the ball." Woods beat Ames, 9 and 8.
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Ian Poulter The late-blooming Englishman's unique combination of self-absorption (a headcover in his likeness), strut (the spiky hair, the groovy attire) and candor (it'll be just him and Tiger one day, he told a U.K. magazine) make him a lightning rod. Love him or hate him, Poulter stirs passions, which of course is exactly why he's good for the game.
17 of 21 Richard Mackson/SI
Jan Stephenson, in 2003 The onetime siren told Golf Magazine in a lengthy Q&A, "This is probably going to get me in trouble, but the Asians are killing our tour." Yep, it got her in trouble all right. The LPGA got in hot water, too, when it subsequently tried to force its Korean players to learn English.
18 of 21 Fred Vuich/SI
Kevin Na He's young, talented... and slow. In and of itself, that wouldn't be a problem, but unlike Ben Crane, insular Na has been more defiant than contrite about his pokey playing habits. Slow and proud is not a winning combination on Tour.
19 of 21 David Cannon/Getty Images
Colin Montgomerie Few players have drawn the ire of golf fans like Colin Montgomerie. Monty's stellar play in the Ryder Cup and hyper-sensitivity to slights from the gallery ensured that the Scotsman more than his fair share of controversy. Monty enjoyed a renaissance in 2014, winning two Senior majors and making peace with American fans. "I’ve matured,” he says. “I’ve realized that you need the fans on your side. There’s no point in fighting against a few thousand of them out there.”
20 of 21 David Cannon/Getty Images
Bubba Watson He's one of the game's folk heroes, but the down-home demeanor that fans love has sometimes gotten the two-time Masters champion in trouble. Here's Bubba on seeing the sites of Paris when in Europe for the 2011 French Open: "I don't know the names of all the things, the big tower, Eiffel Tower, an arch (Arc de Triomphe), whatever. I rode around in a circle. And then what's that - it starts with an 'L' - Louvre, something like that. One of those." He later apologized. Bubba hasn't been immune from trouble on American soil, either. He apologized for his behavior during the 2014 PGA Championship, which included hitting an iron off the tee to protest the long-drive contest and losing his cool during the rain-soaked second round.
21 of 21 Phil Inglis/Getty Images
Steve Elkington One of the smoothest swingers in the history of the game doesn't have quite the same tempo on social media. Jokes about a Scottish helicopter crash, a female golf reporter, and a