The 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah will forever be remembered for the blind swing taken by a then plucky 19-year-old Sergio Garcia. Little Sergio scissor-kicked his way into the hearts of golf enthusiasts the world over as he sprinted down the fairway, like a schoolboy getting his first glimpse of a woman’s underwear, to get a look at his six iron that miraculously landed on the putting surface. Golf fans, even non-fans the world over were captivated and relieved to have someone take their mind off of their impending doom at the hands of Y2K. To say that this young Spaniard was the second coming of Seve, and the brash young swashbuckler destined for countless Sunday Major duels with Tiger, was the lock of the century. Sergio announced himself to the world with that swing, one summer afternoon before the turn of the century.
Fast forward in time to February 2019. Thankfully, the computers decided not to destroy humanity, Nick Carter from the Backstreet Boys is healthy and happy, and we all got to watch a man of almost 40 years throw a temper tantrum in a bunker like a rich baby in a shopping mall. It was one of the poorest displays of behavior I have seen on a golf course in all my days, even back to junior golf when I watched a kid from the rich Episcopalian school smash his brand new Titleist 975-D against a tree because he hit his drive out of bounds.
One can only blame the fiery temperament of the Spanish for so many years before it becomes abundantly clear (and maybe slightly racist) that Sergio is the physical embodiment of the worst parts of golf. The worst part is that, unfortunately, it is not and never will be an everyman’s sport. Golf is just too damn expensive, that has never been a big secret. Golf has a long history of exclusion and privilege attached to it and, while great strides have been taken to erase that side of the game, when an adult millionaire comes unglued during a golf tournament in Saudi Arabia for the world to see and starts flailing his custom clubs around a perfectly manicured bunker, those ugly parts of the game come into the light again.
To go even further, Sergio was disqualified from the event for violating golf’s rule 1.2a citing “serious misconduct” for allegedly smashing clubs into the greens out of frustration. When I heard about this I was shocked, as Sergio has been a professional for 20 years, and more than shock I was angry. Angry that someone, with a swing that was given to only him by Zeus himself, the natural ability to hit a three iron as high as a nine and land it like a dragonfly, a man who could carve a five wood forty yards in either direction on a whim, someone to whom the game has given millions of dollars and legions of admirers would actually commit the classless and cardinal sin of slamming a club into the holiest ground on a golf course…I was sickened. This is inexcusable.
Let it be known that I did not grow up by any means a street urchin. I was not on the winter streets pressing my nose to the cold glass of a restaurant as I shivered under my rag clothing watching rich people dining on lobster thermidor. I grew up playing the game and had the means to do so, but I was a public course kid, sneaking on for most rounds from the street that ran behind the clubhouse. I would watch carefully that no one was coming up the ninth hole
and then jump on the par four tenth tee and quickly hit my drive with no warm up to speak of, carefully crafting my alibi for when I was approached by the marshall and asked to show my receipt: “Salutations and a pleasant afternoon to you my good sir…receipt why yes, it’s right here in my waistcoat let me procure that for your perusal with the utmost haste ah, the devil of it all…yes you see it must have been liberated from my possession along with my pocket watch by that rabble of filthy orphans that accosted me earlier on the sixth green, you’ll have to accept my most sincerest of apologies and take it upon my good word as a patriot of these United States and the word of my business associates in Philadelphia that I have paid the aforementioned dues in full and I am in good standing with the club. Now I must say good day to you, sir. I say good day.”
This elaborate and rarely successful ruse was born of necessity as I loved the game and wanted to play every day, but couldn’t afford to do so. I was willing to take the risk of being caught and out of this my respect for the game and the course grew strong. You never put your bag on the green, you never throw clubs, you always rake the sand, you never hit into the group in front of you, you never throw a flaming bottle of gasoline through the window of the pro shop and you never, ever slam your clubs into the green. Sergio violated this rule and in turn, shattered his pact with us, the players on tour and the game of golf forever. I am sure he is embarrassed and rightfully so, I have been drunk at enough weddings to know the feeling, but this went far beyond a minor infraction into the realm of defiling the sanctity of the sport in perpetuity…Sergio simply broke the code and I’m afraid there is no coming back from that. I’m just glad Seve wasn’t alive to see this.