You know, it really doesn’t seem possible that someone else made a fried chicken joke about Tiger Woods. When Fuzzy Zoeller made his fried chicken joke about Tiger Woods in 1997 and got in all sorts of trouble for it – loss of sponsors, loss of popularity, a permanent “controversies” section on Wikipedia – well, there wasn’t much good to come from it but you probably would have bet the house that at least nobody would ever make another friend chicken joke about Woods.
And then: Sergio. Oh, Sergio.
Here, for your teeth-gnashing discomfort, was Fuzzy’s quote about Woods during Tiger’s historical run at the 1997 Masters: “That little boy is driving well and he's putting well. He's doing everything it takes to win. So, you know what you guys do when he gets in here? You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year. Got it? … Or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve.”
Yeah, after that, you might have thought people wouldn’t even put Tiger Woods in a sentence with either “Fried” or “chicken.”
And then: Sergio. Oh, Sergio.
When Golf Channel’s Steve Sands asked Sergio Garcia at the European Tour Players’ Awards Dinner if he would invite Woods over for dinner during the U.S. Open – you know, a little joke, Sergio and Tiger have been feuding and all that – Garcia reportedly said: “We will have him round every night. We will serve fried chicken.”
Sergio. Oh, Sergio.
“I didn’t mean anything by it,” either Fuzzy or Sergio wrote in his apology statement.
“I answered a question that was clearly made toward me as a joke with a silly remark,” Sergio or Fuzzy said.
“Anybody who knows me knows I’m a jokester,” said one of the statements.
“In no way was the comment meant in a racist manner,” said the other statement.
“It had nothing to do with black, white, purple, yellow, green race,” said one.
“I apologize for any offence,” said the other – wait, that had to be Sergio’s because of the way he spelled “offence.”
“I’m sorry if I offended anybody,” said, well, wait, I think that’s from Fuzzy’s statement.
Whatever. Garcia made an off-color remark in his second language when he was trying to be funny in front of a lot of people. Misunderstandings happen all the time. There’s no reason to doubt him when he says that he did not mean it in a racist way. After all, Garcia has basically called Woods a liar, a phony and a jerk, and he isn’t apologizing for any of those things.
What’s striking is just how deep Woods is in Garcia’s head. For more than a week now – ever since the moment Woods pulled a club just as Sergio was in his backswing at The Players Championship – Garcia has been looking for words that will cut Woods. He pulled out that “he’s not the nicest guy on tour” line at one point. Didn’t really leave a mark. He tried several workarounds on the word “liar.” Didn’t lay a glove on him. Then, he offered probably my favorite Sergio soliloquy, which has been quoted many different ways in the European papers:
“He called me a whiner. He’s probably right. But that’s also probably the first thing he’s told you guys (in the media) that’s true in 15 years. I know what he’s like. You guys are finding out.”
That was a pretty good attempt – especially the part where he conceded being a whiner – but I’m sure it too had no impact on Woods, and it’s obvious why: Woods has won 14 major championships. Garcia has won none. Woods is the greatest golfer of his time and perhaps all time. Garcia’s career is widely viewed as an underachievement. Woods put his shot on the green at 17 with the tournament on the line. Garcia hit two in the water.
What could Garcia possibly say that would touch Woods?
It’s cruel … but it’s true. Woods has left behind a lost generation of good golfers. How good, historically, is Phil Mickelson? Ernie Els? Vijay Singh? Garcia? Could they have been the dominant player in the world in a different time? Sham was a great 3-year-old racehorse … but who remembers the horse that finished second to Secretariat? Ezzard Charles was a great boxer – but who remembers the boxer who couldn’t beat Rocky Marciano?
Garcia, in that moment on stage when he was obviously expected to say something funny about Tiger, undoubtedly reached for something edgy. He went over that edge, into a muddy puddle that Zoeller stepped into 16 years ago. Man, nobody ever thought that someone would step in that puddle again.
Sergio quickly apologized. Does that end things? Doubtful. Now people will ask Woods if he accepts the apology. He issued a Twitter response Wednesday. But he'll be asked again, and I suspect Woods’ answer will be similar to the one-word answer he gave when asked if he called to make up with Garcia: “No.”