December 2, 2019

Best of: Controversies in 2019, from Kim to Kuch

There were plenty of good moments from this past year, from Tiger Woods winning his fifth green jacket at Augusta National to a handful of players finding the winner’s circle on Tour for the first time ever.

But there were also some head-scratching moments. Here are the top controversies of a wild year.


Bio Kim’s costly bird

Bio Kim won the DGB Financial Group Volvik Daegu Gyeongbuk Open, but that was lost amid a split-second bad decision. Kim, the Korean Tour’s money leader, let his emotions get the best of him when a cellphone camera shutter went off during his downswing. Clearly frustrated, Kim turned and flipped off the crowd and then slammed his club into the ground.

The Korean Professional Golfers Association slapped Kim with a three-year suspension for the obscene gesture. A number of players voiced their opinions that three years was too harsh, and Kevin Na was the leading defender.

Korean Tour money leader suspended 3 years for obscene gesture

“You’re taking a man’s job for three years,” Na said at the time. “Yes, he was unprofessional and there should be consequences for it, but don’t take a man’s job away for three years.”

A few weeks later, the KPGA reduced Kim’s suspension to just one year. He was still fined $8,350 and ordered to complete 120 hours of community service.


Sergio Garcia frustrations

It seems like ages ago when Sergio Garcia was on top of the world after finally breaking through and winning his first major championship at the Masters in 2017. That alone made it a banner year.

Two years later, 2019 was one to forget for Garcia.

In February, Garcia was disqualified from the Saudi International because of “serious misconduct.” He was accused by other competitors of purposefully hitting his clubs into the surface of the greens, causing damage. But it wasn’t just once; it was reportedly five times.

Garcia disqualified from Saudi event for purposefully damaging greens

That wasn’t the first mishap of the week for Garcia, though. A day before, after hitting a bunker shot on to the green, Garcia took some frustrating swipes at the sand and then uttered an expletive-laden tirade in Spanish.

After being disqualified, Garcia issued a statement, saying, “I respect the decision of my disqualification. In frustration, I damaged a couple of greens, for which I apologize for, and I have informed my fellow players it will never happen again.”

But it did. Sort of.

At the Open Championship in July, video caught Garcia tossing a driver in the direction of his caddie after a frustrating drive.

The following week at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, Garcia again couldn’t contain his negative emotions and was, once again, caught on video damaging the course, this time taking out his frustrations on the tee box.

Not a good look for Garcia, who also had a technicality spat with Matt Kuchar during the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. Which brings us to…


Matt Kuchar – here, there, everywhere

If there’s anyone who has had a more criticized year than Garcia it’s Kuchar.

Kuchar won just over $1 million for his victory at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in November 2018. Normally, caddies receive 10 percent of a player’s winnings. Kuchar’s normal caddie, John Wood, wasn’t able to work the week of Mayakoba, so Kuchar hired a local looper, David Giral Ortiz.

A few months later, word got around that Kuchar didn’t pay Ortiz the full 10 percent, and subsequently got blasted from a handful of Tour pros, and even more from fans on and off the course.

‘That’s not a story:’ Kuchar denies only paying local caddie $3,000

After initially denying it, Kuchar came clean and admitted in a statement that he planned to pay Ortiz the “full total” of what was requested ($50,000), as well as an undisclosed donation to “philanthropic causes” in the area.

“I was stubborn, hard-headed,” Kuchar said in February. “In my mind, I had it as ‘a deal is a deal,’ but after I won the tournament, a deal wasn’t a deal.”

***

Then, in March, more controversy surrounded Kuchar, and yet again, Garcia.

During the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, the two were in a tightly-contested match when Garcia’s 7-foot par putt at the seventh slipped past the left edge of the cup in his quarterfinal match against Kuchar.

Frustrated at the missed putt, Garcia quickly reached over and attempted to backhand his next shot without looking. His ball lipped out, and then it got ugly between the two.

Kuchar was standing off the green and never conceded the comeback putt; no wink, thumbs up or nod, which are all unofficial ways to give the opponent a putt. Garcia felt that was a bit unfair, and that the putt should have been conceded, but instead Kuchar won the hole.

More controversy for Garcia, Kuchar, but fault lies with Sergio

Garcia admitted his mistake when the two met with a rules official on how to go about what had just transpired.

“He knew he made a mistake. I didn’t want that to be how a hole was won or lost,” Kuchar said.

Trying to repair a costly mental error, Garcia offered a rather unorthodox solution, saying, “You can concede a hole,” he told Kuchar on the eighth tee.

“I thought about it and said I don’t like that idea, either,” Kuchar said.

‘We’re all good’: Kuchar, Garcia meet Monday to clear air

Lesson learned for Garcia, who again admitted he was in the wrong for rushing the putt that ultimately lost him the hole.

“It’s quite simple. I screwed it up, it’s as simple as that,” Garcia said. “The only issue that it was, was that [Kuchar] was like, I didn’t say it was good, but I don’t want to take the hole. So, I was like OK, it’s fine, what do you want to do? Because there are many options that you can do if you don’t want to take the hole, even though I’ve already lost that hole. But obviously he didn’t like any of the options that were there.”

***

Thought we were finished with Kuchar? Think again.

This time across the pond, in September, he caught flack for picking away sand in a bunker to improve his lie at the European Open. Treating the sand as individual loose impediments, he methodically took his time giving himself the best possible lie.

More Kuchar controversy: Picks away at sand in waste bunker

Maybe 2020 will be a better year for Kuchar.


Slow play

Like clockwork, slow-play controversies seemed to pop up nearly every week. At the center of it was Bryson DeChambeau.

It began in January when the European Tour posted a video of DeChambeau’s factoring air density into his pre-shot calculations.

Upon seeing the video, Brooks Koepka voiced his opinions on the Golf Monthly podcast, talking about the pace-of-play problem with the PGA Tour and pointed to DeChambeau as one of the biggest issues.

“I just don’t understand how it takes a minute and 20 seconds, a minute and 15 seconds to hit a golf ball. It’s not that hard,” Koepka said at the time. “It’s always between two clubs. There’s a miss short, there’s a miss long. It really drives me nuts, especially when it’s a long hitter because you know you’ve got two other guys, or at least one guy that’s hitting before you, so you can do all your calculations. You should have your numbers.”

The criticism of DeChambeau isn’t unwarranted, at least to most, as the Mad Scientist has been given a bad time multiple times throughout the year, including one at the Memorial playing alongside Tiger Woods and Justin Rose.

What can the PGA Tour can do to combat slow play?

“It’s a bit unfair when you’ve got someone that’s behind you, let’s say, and they’re slower, but they’re quicker through their process. I get up there in the middle of the fairway and I have to wait for them to go, and then I have only my 40 seconds, which is what I’m trying to do everything under,” DeChambeau said in May. “People call me slow. I call myself quick with the stuff I do. … A lot of guys out here, they just see it and they hit it. And for me I don’t want to do that because I feel like there’s other variables I get hurt on.”

DeChambeau isn’t the only one talking slow-play problems. In March at The Players, Rory McIlroy held nothing back after it took players north of 5 hours to complete their round, some not even being able to before play was suspended Friday because of darkness.

McIlroy sounds off on ‘unacceptable’ slow play at Sawgrass

“The fact that someone didn’t finish yesterday, just being through daylight savings and the tee times and someone had to come out today because there wasn’t enough light to finish, I mean, that’s unacceptable,” McIlroy said. “This is [five hours and 40 minutes] after our tee time. I get that it can take five hours to play out there, but it shouldn’t take any over that.”

Even on the European Tour slow play is an uncontrollable epidemic.

Edoardo Molinari voiced his displeasure for slow play on Twitter with a pair of tweets, one that included a list of players who have been put on the clock – and fined – this season in European Tour, WGC and major events.

Later that week, Graeme McDowell chimed in, but said while he understood what Molinari was trying to do, he was just “flogging a dead horse.”

Then there’s J.B. Holmes, who, like DeChambeau, is known for his pace-of-play problems. After getting exposed during the Genesis Open, which he would go on to win, Holmes talked about how he had actually improved his speed on the course. 

“Yeah, when I first got out here I was really slow. But I’ve sped up quite a bit,” Holmes said. “I’ve gotten better. There’s times when I’m probably too slow, but it is what it is. I was never on the clock. Never even got a warning. TV wants everything to be real fast all the time.”

Has the PGA Tour been too slow to act on slow play?

But Holmes’ new-and-improved speed didn’t cut it for Koepka, who is one of the quickest players on Tour.

During Sunday’s final round, Holmes and Koepka were playing in the penultimate group. As Koepka walked off the 12th green, he looked at the Tour official and pointed to his non-existent watch, signaling his displeasure with Holmes’ slow play.

There are countless more examples. In recent weeks, both the PGA Tour and European Tour have put plans and technologies in place to help squash this golf epidemic.

In August, the European Tour announced it plans to begin using a four-point plan that’s designed to improve pace of play through firmer penalties, increased fines, smaller field sizes and new technology. As for the PGA Tour, it began using tracking devices this year at a handful of events, including The Players in March, as well as information provided by ShotLink. 

Here’s to hoping slow play isn’t as much of a thing in 2020, for everyone’s sake. 


Hank Haney comments

As one of the premiere swing coaches, Hank Haney has helped countless players, including Tiger Woods. But in May, he hurt himself in a pretty big way.

Haney had “Great Predictor” Steve Johnson on his radio show in May and admitted he wasn’t aware the 74th U.S. Women’s Open was being played that week, or where it was being held.

But he did apparently know one thing.

“I’m gonna predict a Korean (will win),” Haney said with a laugh. “I couldn’t name you six players on the LPGA tour. Maybe I could. Well … I’d go with ‘Lee,’ if I didn’t have to name a first name. I’d get a bunch of them right.”

Shortly after, Haney apologized on Twitter for his insensitive comments. 

But that didn’t stop the backlash. A handful of players let their opinions of Haney known on Twitter.

Tour players react to Haney’s LPGA comments: ‘Shame on you’

Haney was then suspended from his SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio show, and his position moving forward was being reviewed.

Shortly after, Woods was asked what his thoughts were on Haney’s comments, and said, “He deserved it. Just can’t look at life like that. And he obviously said what he meant, and he got what he deserved.” Haney fired back at Woods on Twitter, saying, “Amazing how @tigerwoods has become the moral authority on issues pertaining to women. I spent six great years coaching Tiger, and not one time he ever hear me utter one sexist or racist word. Now, in addition to being a 15 time major champion, I guess he thinks he’s also a mind reader? #glasshouses”

South Korea’s Jeongeun Lee6 would go on to win at Country Club of Charleston for her first career major championship. Haney defended his “prediction” by tweeting “Congratulations to Jeougean Lee6 on your great win at the US Women’s Open. Who’s The Great Predictor now Steve Johnson @steveyrayj  I knew a Lee would win.”

He would go on to delete the tweet after misspelling Lee6’s name, but would correct it in a new tweet and stuck with the claim that he “knew” Lee would win.


‘Reckless self-sabotage’

Some people criticize Brooks Koepka for being too big and working out too much. Not Brandel Chamblee.

Tuesday of the Masters, Koepka revealed he underwent tests after The Players and said it had been three weeks since he worked out following an intense workout schedule and diet that drained his energy.

The world would later learn Koepka’s weight loss was for an appearance in this year’s ESPN “Body Issue” magazine. Saying Chamblee wasn’t a fan of that move would be an understatement.

“For him to change his body and his body chemistry for vanity reasons for a vanity shoot is the most reckless self-sabotage that I have ever seen of an athlete in his prime,” Chamblee said on “Live From The Masters” on the Golf Channel. “I get why they asked Gary Player to do that shoot, I get why they asked Greg Norman. I get why they do that. Those guys are incredibly fit guys and want to show the world they’re fit. But to do something that takes you out of your game, to change your game completely. To see someone whose body has changed drastically, it’s never worked out very well. It’s led to deterioration.”

Chamblee on Koepka’s diet: ‘Most reckless self-sabotage I have ever seen’

Later in the week, Chamblee was at it again with Koepka, questioned if Koepka was mentally strong enough to win the Masters. 

“His talent is undeniable,” Chamblee said. “But I’ve heard people say this. You extrapolate from accomplishment, you infer qualities from a human being like, ‘He’s really tough.’ Maybe he is, I don’t know. I got to say, I still need to be convinced.”

Koepka would go on to finish T-2, one shot back of winner Tiger Woods. But what Chamblee said about Koepka’s toughness didn’t sit well with him.

“I know some people don’t think I’m mentally tough, or tough in general, but I think I am,” said Koepka, who didn’t mention Chamblee by name. “I think I’ve proven that with three trophies. I feel like no matter how things are going, whether they are going really well or really poorly out there, I can grind it out, and especially during a major.”

That carried over to the following month at the PGA Championship, where Koepka was the defending champion. Koepka opened his title defense at Bethpage Black with a 7-under 65, and Chamblee took notice.

Chamblee on Koepka’s opening 63: ‘Felt like he was giving me the finger’

“I’ve been flipped off a few times in my life – probably not as often as you’d think – but I felt like he was giving me the finger for 4 1/2 hours out there today,” Chamblee said that night on “Golf Central Live From the PGA.”

He wouldn’t let up either. Koepka retained the Wanamaker Trophy after fending off Dustin Johnson, finishing the week at 8 under.

“Telling me I wasn’t tough. That pissed me off. That really pissed me off,” Kopeka said after he captured his fourth major championship.

Wonder what more will come about from this rivalry in 2020?


The slip heard ’round the world

There was some real carnage down the stretch Sunday at Augusta National, as there always is. But one of the biggest drama moments came Friday, and it had nothing to do with a golf shot.

The course had received some rain, which meant the grounds were soggy and slippery.

Tiger Woods was making a charge. At 2 under on the day, Woods found himself just a few off the lead. His drive veered into the left rough at No. 14. Woods was miraculously able to find the green from 159 yards out through an opening in the trees.

As the fans attempted to rush toward the most polarizing player the world has ever seen, there were security guards there to make sure they didn’t get too close. But in the process of doing so, one officer came within inches of causing a disastrous scene.

The officer slipped and clipped Woods’ ankle, momentarily injuring Woods as he grimaced and hobbled away from the patrons. Whatever he must have tweaked or hurt wasn’t enough to keep Woods from making his birdie putt to move to 3 under on the day.

Woods on security-guard incident on No. 14: ‘Accidents happen’

“It’s all good. Accidents happen,” Woods said following his round. “I’ve had galleries run over me. When you play in front of a lot of people, things happen.”

The security officer was unable to give a comment on the situation, citing department policy.

But for a split second, the entire golf world held their breath for the guy who would go on to complete one of the most iconic comebacks in all of sports by capturing his fifth green jacket and 15th major championship.