Before Tiger: Four Golfing Scandals That Shook the Sport
By Dan Billings
Until recently, the amateur side of golf, a sport spanning almost 600 years, seemed to be reserved for old white guys, young white guys trying to do business with old white guys, and Japanese guys also trying to do business with old white guys. That image all began to change in 1995, thanks to Adam Sandler. His comedy classic Happy Gilmore introduced the sport to alcohol infused lewdness, fans that looked like they got lost on the way to a WWE match, and a new definition for a golfing wardrobe.
One year later, the man whose name is synonymous with golf, Tiger Woods, exploded onto the professional circuit, changing the real-life landscape of the sport forever. In 1996, Tiger signed the most lucrative endorsement contracts in golf history with Nike and Titleist, and was named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated. To date, he’s the only athlete to be honored with that distinction twice. Both commercial achievements were followed with his first record-breaking Masters win in 1997. He was the youngest player in history to win the tournament, and went on to shatter a staggering amount of records throughout the rest of his career.
Today, Tiger’s name is also synonymous with scandal. It was reported in late 2009 that he had been unfaithful to his wife. A voicemail emerged from a supposed mistress and, soon after, women came out of the woodwork – over a dozen – claiming they’d slept with the pro. Tiger made several public apologies for his infidelities, lost his endorsements’ shareholders about $8 billion, and was divorced by his wife of six years, Elin Nordegren. The only real silver lining of the scandal was a brilliant South Park episode and a novelty set of golf balls.
In the wake of Tiger’s transgressions, KoldCast TV picked up the provocative series, In the Rough, a show about the ruthless world of tournament golf following Will Ryan, an average guy who strives for transcendence by taking his game pro. He’s aided by Greg O’Riley, a character evoking Mickey from Rocky or Paddy Conlon from Warrior. O’Riley routinely drops nuclear wisdom bombs in Will’s ear, such as “Do you know why golf is the greatest game ever played? Because the only person you have to beat out here… is yourself.” It’s tonally mesmerizing, the love child of The Legend of Bagger Vance and Tin Cup.
In The Rough – Green Fees
Luckily, there were no love children to come out of Tiger’s follies, though some are better at hiding those things than others. Curious as to whether he and Sandler were the first to taint the sport, we bring you the lesser-known moments that rocked the world of pro golf.
It’s In the Buff, I Mean Rough
Jan Stephenson was the LPGA’s star in the early eighties when she won three consecutive majors: the 1981 Peter Jackson Classic, the 1982 LPGA Championship, and the 1983 U.S. Women’s Open. The Australian Stephenson was also one of the most controversial women to play the sport, openly championing a “sex sells” approach to marketing herself and racking up endorsement deals. In 1986, she posed completely nude in a bathtub full of golf balls for Maxfil’s pinup calendar, setting the stage for sexy golfers to come. Christina Kim would follow her up almost two decades later by posing nude for ESPN Magazine in 2009.
After winning the 1991 PGA Championship and the PGA Rookie of the Year award, John Daly appeared to have a great career ahead of him. Unfortunately, Daly did not experience the success many claimed he was destined for, due to his struggle with alcoholism. In 1994, the PGA suspended Daly after he walked off of the course in the middle of a round. Daly continued this Elton John-esque practice of quitting right in the middle of his tournaments. Much of Daly’s bad behavior continued off the course as well. He was known for trashing hotel rooms, losing loads of money gambling, and was fined by the PGA on a regular basis. Daly has only won one major championship after 1991, and he has since given up drinking.
In the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage State Park in New York, Sergio Garcia approached the ball with his usual slow swagger, and proceeded to regrip or “waggle” his club for several minutes, concentrating intently. It was raining that day, and the fans did not share his patience. As they grew restless, one confident buck yelled “Hit the ball, Sergio!” Sergio responded to the heckler with a prominent middle finger. Although Garcia has lost his waggle over the years, he’s remarked that “My swing works for me, so why should I change it? I prefer to have a natural swing and play well rather than a perfect swing and not be able to play good.” Ironically, Garcia’s finger became infected in May 2011, forcing him to withdraw from qualifying for the 2011 British Open.
In 2004, LPGA player Jackie Gallagher-Smith took trusting your caddie to a whole new level. Her club wrangler Gary Robinson, 11 years Jackie’s junior, impregnated her and subsequently filed a lawsuit. His attorney claimed “he was put into the position of being an unwitting sperm donor.” A creative defense, to say the least. Allegedly, Jackie was experiencing some difficulties becoming pregnant with her husband and seduced Robinson into teeing her up. The lawsuit was dropped after caddie and golfer reached an agreement regarding Robinson’s required presence in the child’s life.
In The Rough – Eye of The Tiger
Dan Billings lives in Mt. Prospect, Illinois. When he’s not running and listening to BBC podcasts, he’s reading comic books. He likes to consider himself a successful funny man, but that may only be true compared to the other legal writers that he spends his days with. On occasion, he writes on his own personal blog at rockthewesternworld.com.