Justin Thomas was overwhelmed with emotion. Under the fading sunlight in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., Thomas had just two-putted for birdie on the first playoff hole to win the 2018 Honda Classic.
After holing the tournament-winner — a knee-knocking four-footer — he took a step back and pumped his fists once. “Let’s go!” he yelled. Then he did it again. This time with slightly more colorful language, and CBS microphones caught it all: “F— yeah, baby!”
Less than an hour later, while meeting with the press, Thomas could only laugh at his 73rd-hole slip.
“I didn’t know that was obviously going to be on TV or I wouldn’t have said it,” he said. “I’m sorry. Please don’t fine me very much, PGA. … I apologize to anybody that heard it, or everybody that heard it.”
Thomas’s cuss heard ’round the golf world wasn’t exactly scandalous, but it did draw three of the nine complaints that viewers filed with the Federal Communications Commission during the 2017-18 PGA Tour season.
Through a Freedom of Information Request, GOLF.com received every complaint regarding profanities, commercials, visuals, and other language that viewers deemed offensive during golf broadcasts on CBS, NBC, Golf Channel, ESPN and Fox Sports since 2015. The FCC regulates telecommunications technologies’ obscene and profane speech.
Though the volume of complaints is relatively light (perhaps because viewers can now vent on social media), the past year did produce a small uptick. From 2015-18, two beefs came in 2015 (both for commercials), none in 2016 and ’17, and nine in 2018.
Of those nine, eight related to foul language uttered by pro golfers and another regarded an inappropriate conversation picked up by Fox Sports mics at the U.S. Open. Three complaints were on CBS broadcasts (all from Thomas at the Honda), three were NBC broadcasts and one each came from broadcasts on the Golf Channel and Fox. One viewer didn’t specify a tournament or a station — they were fed up with all of them.
A viewer from Manassas, Va., said Thomas’s word choice at PGA National turned the event “from great to appalling.” Observed another viewer, from Ankeny, Iowa: “I am hoping that CBS will be disciplined for airing professional golfers yelling f— during live coverage in front of young sports fans. Huge fines should be enforced.”
In August, a viewer from Oregon City, Ore., said he or she would like to file a complaint against all stations and networks that broadcast professional golf, adding that “Nick Faldo said last weekend [on CBS] that the announcers need to keep talking over the player’s [sic] swings so they can try to cover up some of the profanities.”
One of the NBC complaints was triggered by a Tiger Woods expletive during the final round of the Bay Hill Invitational. The viewer said they were watching with their 10-year-old son.
“I am trying to teach my son golf and would like to continue watching, but I don’t think I can,” the viewer said. “I feel like when [Woods] plays they should use a delay.”
The other two complaints about an NBC broadcast were from the British Open, both relating to a Xander Schauffele expletive caught on camera during the final round.
“On SUNDAY, my family was treated to a golfer saying the word ‘s—‘ during The Open on NBC Golf,” wrote the viewer from Paradise Valley, Ariz. “Don’t they have a delay to cut that sound out? Seriously, a Sunday morning shouldn’t have programming with indecent language.”
“It’s an unfortunate reality for nearly all live sports, which on the whole tend not to employ tape delay,” said a Golf Channel spokesperson. “When these incidents do unfortunately occur, they are edited out of re-airs, and on-air personalities are quick to apologize to the audience on behalf of the offender.”
All nine complaints, with some language redacted, can be read below in their entirety.