When two golfers trade barbs off the course, it doesn’t exactly scream “raw athletic intensity.” So it’s been easy to ignore the Tiger Woods-Sergio Garcia “feud” that has “exploded” these last few weeks.
Until now. Garcia’s latest salvo took a racist turn. At a European Tour awards dinner on Tuesday night, Steve Sands of The Golf Channel asked Garcia, in jest, if he would have Woods over for dinner during the U.S. Open. “We will have him round every night,” Garcia said. “We will serve fried chicken.”
Ugh. Garcia’s words echoed Fuzzy Zoeller’s infamous comments about Woods in 1997, which also played on tired racial stereotypes about African-Americans. While Woods, then 21, was crushing the Augusta field that year, Zoeller made reference to a Master’s tradition: the previous year’s winner choosing the menu at the annual Champions dinner. “You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not serve fried chicken next year,” Zoeller said. “Got it? Or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve.”
Zoeller later apologized, and so did Garcia. Through a statement issued by the European Tour, Garcia said, “I apologize for any offense that may have been caused by my comment on stage during The European Tour Players’ Awards dinner. I answered a question that was clearly made towards me as a joke with a silly remark, but in no way was the comment meant in a racist manner.”
This whole thing started at the Players Championship almost two weeks ago. During the third round, Garcia and Woods were paired up. On the second hole, Garcia said Woods pulled out a club during Garcia’s backswing, causing the crowd to make noise and distract him. Woods insisted that a marshal said that Garcia already hit, though a marshal later denied this to Sports Illustrated. “He’s not my favorite guy to play with, he’s not the nicest guy on tour,” Garcia told ESPN after the round. “We don’t enjoy each other’s company. You don’t have to be a rocket engineer to figure that out.”
“Not real surprising that he’s complaining about something,” Woods said.
The sparring continued this week. At a news conference ahead of the AT&T National, a reporter asked Woods if he would call Garcia to patch things up. “No,” Woods said with a smile. Garcia fired back: “He called me a whiner. That’s probably right. It’s also probably the first thing he’s told you guys that’s true in 15 years. I know what he is like. You guys are finding out.”
And now, the fried chicken remark. If you were hoping the whole Tiger-Sergio thing would just stop already, well, sorry. The remark, even in jest, shows that racial insensitivity still exists on the tour. Tiger’s race still matters, at least for some people.
The U.S. Open tees off in mid-June. There, Garcia will have some serious explaining to do.
UPDATE: Garcia apologized again on Wednesday, saying:
“I didn’t really sleep at all, I felt my heart was going to come out of my body.”
“My answer was totally stupid and out of place. I feel sick about it.”
On Twitter, Woods wrote: