FORT WORTH, Texas – He should have known better.
Contempt toward a co-worker is one thing, but racial insensitivity is where a vaguely entertaining feud lurches into a much darker place.
Among the words in modern lexicon that don’t wash off is “racist.” Whether Sergio Garcia deserves that label is a question of individual sensitivities, whether he should have known better is not.
During a black-tie gala on Tuesday in London, Garcia was asked by Golf Channel’s Steve Sands, who was emceeing the event, if he planned to invite Tiger Woods over for dinner during next month’s U.S. Open.
“We will have him round every night. We will serve fried chicken,” Garcia said.
The Spaniard quickly issued a statement regarding the comment that felt more like a non-apology: “I apologize for any offense that may have been caused by my comment on stage during the European Tour Players’ Awards dinner. I answered a question that was clearly made towards me as a joke with a silly remark, but in no way was the comment meant in a racist manner.”
For those who thought the war of words between Garcia and Woods reached its apex at The Players Championship, the world No. 1 pulled no punches with his response to Garcia’s comments, if not his sterile mea culpa.
“The comment that was made wasn’t silly. It was wrong, hurtful and clearly inappropriate,” Woods tweeted early Wednesday. “I’m confident that there is real regret that the remark was made. The Players ended nearly two weeks ago and it’s long past time to move on and talk about golf.”
Almost always emotional and honest, Garcia seemed much more contrite on Wednesday during a press conference at the BMW PGA Championship. Know this about the Spaniard, he has no editing equipment during the best of circumstances. Put him under the lights with the world watching and there is no such thing as an unspoken thought.
Garcia said he knew immediately that he’d crossed the line with his comments and that he had tried to reach out to Woods to apologize personally via his manager, Mark Steinberg.
“It wasn’t meant that way (racist). I was caught off guard by what seemed to be a funny question. I cannot apologize enough times,” Garcia said. “As soon as I left the dinner I started to get a sick feeling in my body. I didn’t sleep very well. I’ve had this sick feeling all day.”
By most accounts Garcia’s apology appeared from the heart and genuine, not that words could ever absolve him of culpability. But it’s Garcia’s inability to acknowledge the fact that, in 2013, he should have known better that is the most baffling.
As one player figured early Wednesday at Colonial, “Of course he knew (his comments were offensive), Fuzzy (Zoeller) made that crystal clear a long time ago.”
Zoeller made his comments following Woods’ historic 1997 Masters victory and never fully recovered, either financially or with the fans. When asked to compare his situation to Zoeller’s, however, Garcia seemed strangely unfamiliar with the episode that rocked the golf world and beyond.
“I didn’t know about that. I was made aware of it today. I was 17 years old and really didn’t know about it,” Garcia said.
While the notion that many 17 year olds are indifferent to life’s realities is plausible, Garcia was no normal 17 year old. Two years after Zoeller’s remarks, the young Spaniard went head-to-head with Woods at the PGA Championship and was quickly labeled Tiger’s next great challenger.
Maybe he didn’t know about Zoeller’s comments, but he should have.
Following that moment at Medinah, Woods and Garcia’s relationship, what little there was of it, began to deteriorate until coming to a head two weeks ago at The Players when Woods pulled the head cover off a fairway wood in the trees adjacent the second fairway and the lid off a smoldering hatred that now seems to have gone well beyond a simple personality conflict.
The he said/he said give and take between the two since Saturday at TPC Sawgrass seemed harmless enough until Garcia’s utter distaste of the world No. 1 became ugly and inexcusable.
“I didn’t mean to offend anyone. I was caught off guard by the question. I can’t say sorry enough,” he said.
No, he can’t apologize enough for what he said or for the fact that he should have known better.