Commentary

Woods needs to clean up his act

Tiger, please, where are your manners?

Updated: July 22, 2009, 8:01 PM ET
By Rick Reilly | ESPN The Magazine

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Tiger Woods has outgrown those Urkel glasses he had as a kid. Outgrown the crazy hair. Outgrown a body that was mostly neck.

When will he outgrow his temper?

The man is 33 years old, married, the father of two. He is paid nearly $100 million a year to be the representative for some monstrously huge companies, from Nike to Accenture. He is the world's most famous and beloved athlete.

And yet he spent most of his two days at Turnberry last week doing the Turn and Bury. He'd hit a bad shot, turn and bury his club into the ground in a fit. It was two days of Tiger Tantrums -- slamming his club, throwing his club and cursing his club. In front of a worldwide audience.

A whole lot of that worldwide audience is kids. They do what Tiger does. They swing like Tiger, read putts like Tiger and do the celebration biceps pump like Tiger. Do you think for two seconds they don't think it's cool to throw their clubs like Tiger, too?

He's grown in every other way. He's committed, responsible, smart, funny and the most talented golfer in history. I just thought we'd be over the conniptions by now.

If there were no six-second delay, Tiger Woods would be the reason to invent it. Every network has been burned by having the on-course microphone open when he blocks one right into the cabbage and starts with the F-bombs. Once, at Doral, he unleashed a string of swear words at a photographer that would've made Artie Lange blush, and then snarled, "'The next time a photographer shoots a [expletive] picture, I'm going to break his [expletive] neck!"

He's grown in every other way. He's committed, responsible, smart, funny, and the most talented golfer in history. I just thought we'd be over the conniptions by now.

It's disrespectful to the game, disrespectful to those he plays with and disrespectful to the great players who built the game before him. Ever remember Jack Nicklaus doing it? Arnold Palmer? When Tom Watson was getting guillotined in that playoff to Stewart Cink, did you see him so much as spit? Only one great player ever threw clubs as a pro -- Bobby Jones -- and he stopped in his 20s when he realized how spoiled he looked.

This isn't new. Woods has been this way for years: swearing like a Hooters' bouncer, trying to bury the bottom of his driver into the tee box, flipping his club end over end the second he realizes his shot is way offline.

I can still remember the 1997 Masters -- arguably the most important golf tournament ever played. Woods, then 21, was playing the 15th hole on Sunday. He had just hit a fairway wood out of the rough and was watching it. A young boy came up from behind just to touch him -- just to pat the back of this amazing new superhero. That's when Tiger pulled the club way back over his head and slammed it down, nearly braining the kid he couldn't see behind him. And this was with a huge lead.

Look, in every other case, I think Tiger Woods has been an A-plus role model. Never shows up in the back of a squad car with a black eye. Never gets busted in a sleazy motel with three "freelance models." Never gets so much as a parking ticket. But this punk act on the golf course has got to stop. If it were my son, I'd tell him the same thing: "Either behave or get off the course."

Come to think of it, if I were the president of Nike, I'd tell him the same thing.

Put it this way: Will Tiger let his own two kids carry on in public like that?

I know what you're saying. We see more Tiger tantrums because TV shows every single shot he hits. And I'm telling you: You're wrong. He is one of the few on Tour who do it. And I keep wondering when PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem is going to have the cojones to publicly upbraid him for it.

Golf is a gentlemen's game. Stomping and swearing and carrying on like a Beverly Hills tennis brat might fly in the NBA or in baseball or in football, where less is expected, but golf demands manners. It's your honor. Is my mark in your way? No, I had 6, not 5. Golfers call penalties on themselves. We are our own police. Tiger, police yourself.

Tiger does a boatload of work for kids. He raises millions for his Tiger Woods Learning Center, which has helped teach thousands. But teaching goes the wrong way, too. Tiger is teaching them that if he can be a hissy hothead on the course, they can, too.

I remember Tiger's dad, Earl, telling a story. One day, when Tiger was just a kid, he was throwing his clubs around in a fuming fit when his dad said something like "Tiger, golf is supposed to be fun." And Tiger said, "Daddy, I want to win. That's how I have fun."

Well, it's not fun to watch.


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