The top newsmaker on our list in 2013 has been around since before the ancient game was invented.
While this entity has always been a part of the game, it has never defined a year in golf quite like it defined this past one.
Controversy is our No. 1 newsmaker.
The caretakers of this sport like to think golf is different, that it’s a gentleman’s game, able to rise above both the meaningful and petty squabbles that are part of the human condition. There seemed so much to rise above this year, so many meaningful conflicts and so many petty ones. From questions about “cavalier” treatment of rules, to disputes between players, from clashes between players and governing bodies, to confrontations between the heads of governing bodies, the year was marked by more contentiousness than this genteel sport is accustomed.
When rancor between Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods emerged at The Players Championship, we weren’t surprised. They have a history. But when Garcia made his crack about inviting Woods over for “fried chicken,” we were beyond surprised. Sixteen years after Fuzzy Zoeller got into a heap of trouble for a similar crack, we couldn’t believe we were hearing it again.
When players pressed the USGA’s Mike Davis about a proposed ban of anchored strokes in a players meeting at Torrey Pines back at year’s start, we weren’t surprised. A lot of players were upset about the rule, or the rule’s timing with anchoring having been allowed to become so vital to so many players for so long. But when players at that meeting stood up and questioned why the USGA even has authority over the pro game, we were surprised.
And we were equally startled when contentious differences over anchoring became so public between R&A chief executive Peter Dawson and PGA of America president Ted Bishop. We did more than raise our eyebrows when it spilled beyond anchoring, with Bishop questioning the R&A’s “unwillingness to accept women as members.”
The intensity of arguments over Woods’ drops at the Masters and The Players Championship gave us pause. So did the debate over whether Woods caused his ball to move in a two-stroke penalty at the BMW Championship. While few were surprised that analyst Brandel Chamblee would challenge Woods on anything, many were surprised when Chamblee gave Woods an “F” for being “a little cavalier with the rules” in a column for Golf.com.
For a sport whose players take pride in policing themselves, there was a lot of legal wrangling this past year.
You want controversy? Get lawyers involved. There are a lot of them involved in golf disputes today.
The game didn’t seem so genteel when Woods’ agent, Mark Steinberg, threatened legal action against Chamblee.
Or when Vijay Singh actually did sue the PGA Tour after it sanctioned him for using deer antler spray but then dropped its doping case against him. Singh accused the Tour of exposing him to “public humiliation and ridicule.”
The game didn’t seem so genteel when players suggested they were considering suing for the right to use anchored putters.
Or when Oakley filed suit against Rory McIlroy over terms of his new Nike deal, or when McIlroy sued his former management company after splitting with them, or when Horizon Sports counter sued. Though the Oakley suit was settled, McIlroy’s legal battle with his former management company continues.
So what in the name of Bobby Jones is going on in golf?
Is the game more contentious? More rife with conflict? Less civil?
Probably not. Human nature is human nature. It’s likely there were disputes over lies when Scots started hitting rocks out of dunes in the middle ages, but there wasn’t so much scrutiny as there is in today’s age of instant information. The web, Twitter, blogs and social media commentary have made us so much more aware of the controversy that does exist.
Controversy is social media fuel, and golf isn’t immune to it.
As reporters, we’re taught to always write about conflict when we encounter it. Where there is conflict, something important usually hangs in the balance, something that matters. Sure, controversy titillates, and controversy sells, but controversy can also enlighten.
We’ll remember 2013 for how much we were titillated, but also for how much we were enlightened about both petty and meaningful developments in the game.
More Newsmakers in 2013: