Watching Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez nearly come to blows in their WGC-Cadillac Match Play match on Friday stirred some memories in me.
I once saw two of the most otherwise well-behaved touring professionals stand toe to toe in the middle of what was then the Quad Cities Classic’s 18th fairway and have a staredown, fists at the ready, each waiting for the other man to blink or throw a punch.
In question was a ball plugged in the fairway (a blind fairway from the tee) and whether the ball flew there, which would have entitled the player to a free drop, or rolled there, entitling him to no such thing. I can’t remember the resolution, but if I hadn’t seen two of the nicest guys on Tour almost tussle, I wouldn’t have believed it.
Golf has a short list of pugilistic moments but a few more come to mind, and in full disclosure I have to admit I very nearly was involved in one of them.
I once played with a pro who had a bit of a reputation as a brawler, was rumored to be a black belt in karate and to have killed a man in a bar fight. Word was, he was as crazy as a peach-orchard boar. He and I were in a twosome, and he was on his way to an 80-plus performance. Our sole gallery member was his girlfriend, who seemed sympathetic to his bad golf, at least until his wife showed up and then her disposition seemed, well … less sympathetic.
On hole after hole I had to wait for him to walk and search for a safe spot to stand, presumably out of range of hurled objects (the girlfriend did indeed look athletic). He was doing his best to make himself a moving target, and I was doing my best to play undisturbed, or at least to give that appearance, figuring a protest by me would act like a blowtorch to kindling. I was right.
As I was preparing to chip on one hole he walked right up to the flagstick and stood. I backed away and looking at him I said, “Just let me play.” OK, I may have added an expletive … anyway no sooner had the words left my mouth than rage filled his eyes. He said, “What did you say? I’ll tear your head off!” He definitely added an expletive between the words “your” and “head” and he started walking toward me.
I had about a second to sum up his intentions and to consider my options while hoping the rage in his eyes would be replaced by the rationalization that neither of the witnesses to my murder was likely to be malleable to his reconstruction of the crime scene. But he kept coming. I was going to run, but then I remembered I was armed, albeit with a sand wedge, and the next thing you know I raised the wedge and looked at him a few feet away and dared him to take another step. I said, “Go on, take one more step. Take one more and you will lose your kneecaps.” He stopped and after a second or so, he smiled like he just discovered the wheel, and said, “Little man with fire - I like that” and he turned around and gave me room to chip.
From then on every time I saw him, he addressed me as “little man with fire” and smiled.
Another little man with fire, so to speak, was Dave Hill, who in spite of winning 13 times on Tour was better known for his irascible nature. During a Champions Tour event in the early ’90s J.C. Snead, nephew of Sam Snead, was hitting range balls that were coming to rest far too close to Dave. Dave let loose with a few verbal volleys, ordering J.C. to stop. When he didn’t, Dave took off for the much larger J.C. and the two came to blows, wrestling each other to the ground before other players were able to separate them. The disparity in size between the two men and the tougher era from which they both came has given this confrontation a comical charm in the retelling.
Years ago back in the late ’60s there was a Tour player with questionable connections who was said to be, when he wasn't playing golf, a strong-arm who collected on unpaid debts. Tall and menacing, he looked exactly how you would expect someone to look whose main vocation involved conflict. He had a reputation for playing by any rules he saw fit, and for two very good reasons, he was rarely challenged. First, he wasn't good enough to contend or even be relevant. Second, there was one incident that scared the hell out of everyone.
It is said that up in Boston one year a rules official got wind of a violation he committed and met him in the locker room and took him to task, whereupon the rules official was stuffed in locker and told not to come out until he had permission.
Closest thing we get to a good ol’ fashioned fight these days is when grievances are meted out in the media, social or otherwise, like Phil Mickelson’s passive-aggressive takedown of Tom Watson that led to the Ryder Cup task force, only needs a “d” at the end of “force” to be accurately named, if you ask me, but otherwise it is indeed a gentlemen’s game we all play.