x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Golf: Cheap talk can be costly for Sergio Garcia after Tiger Woods remark

'Fried chicken' remark will cost Spaniard more than just a lot of sponsorship money. His reputation is now on the line, writes Steve Elling.

Tiger Woods, right, and Sergio Garcia have been trading entertaining insults but now the Spaniard has crossed the line.
Tiger Woods, right, and Sergio Garcia have been trading entertaining insults but now the Spaniard has crossed the line.

Latin is supposedly a dead language, though Sergio Garcia is doing his best to single-handedly keep it alive.

In everyday parlance, mea culpa is a Latin term that means, "my fault."

After uttering yet another dunderheaded statement in a career lowlighted by plenty of them, Sergio Garcia had to re-tee his tongue again yesterday.

Hours after he made a racially tinged comment about Tiger Woods that generated global headlines, Garcia called a press conference yesterday at the European Tour's flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, to mop up his Transatlantic mess.

In an attempt to make a joke about his terse relationship with the world No 1 during a black-tie awards banquet on Tuesday, Garcia joked that he might invite Woods over for dinner and serve him "fried chicken," a red-flag stereotype and pejorative term to those of black heritage in the United States.

For two weeks, Woods and Garcia have been lobbing mostly entertaining insults at each other, but this remark reached a new level. As in, the basement floor.

"My answer was totally stupid and out of place. I feel sick about it," Garcia said yesterday, claiming that he contacted Woods's agent and did not sleep the night before. "I am truly, truly sorry."

Given his extensive body of work in the theatre of public apology, this episode might be too much to explain away after the fact. In a game of well-placed verbal darts, Garcia used thermonuclear weapons and went way over the line.

The carping flashpoint dates to their third-round pairing three weeks ago at the Players Championship.

It has created a stream of thinly veiled accusations of deception and whinging from both sides of the Atlantic. The Spaniard on Monday sarcastically noted that Woods was probably correct when he characterised Garcia as a whiner, then unloaded a world-class zinger in response.

"That's probably the first thing he's told you guys that's true in 15 years," Garcia said. "I speak the truth, and the truth usually wins."

With stupidity, everybody loses, and if the fried-chicken comment reflects how Garcia honestly feels in his heart, then all the contrition in the world will not suffice.

To his credit, Woods took the high road and said he believes Garcia is genuinely sorry, though he hardly absolved him of wrongdoing.

"The comment that was made wasn't silly," Woods said on his Twitter account. "It was wrong, hurtful and clearly inappropriate."

It's not easy to make Woods into a sympathetic figure, an innocent victim. Garcia somehow managed.

Sadly, this particular topic is all too familiar for Woods.

Fuzzy Zoeller made a racist crack in 1997 and lost two lucrative endorsement deals as a result. Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman made a comment in jest on the air that resulted in a suspension. Two years ago, Woods' former caddie Steve Williams, made an off-colour, racist comment at a banquet in China.

Remarkably, Garcia said he would not be fined by the European Tour for his remarks, which is not exactly the response many expected.

In a game that remains lily white in most quarters, especially administratively, it sends a signal that's nearly as alarming as the original comment.

His primary sponsor, TaylorMade-Adidas, hardly rushed to his defence. In a statement, the company said: "We discussed with Sergio that his comments are clearly out of bounds and we are continuing to review the matter."

In a career filled with golfing gaffes, nobody knows how an Adidas shoe tastes quite like Garcia. But this one could be a game-changer, financially and professionally. In an era when endorsement opportunities in golf have dwindled, he will be the equivalent of marketing kryptonite in the States.

Then there is the matter of his recent play. After blowing the lead at the Players Championship by hitting three balls in the water on the last two holes, losing to Woods, playing in the United States over the short term was going to be difficult, anyway.

Now, Garcia might need to wear noise-cancelling headphones.

If the Woods comment illustrates how Garcia really feels, being such an inveterate truth-teller and all, fans might prefer earplugs too.