Almost everyone has a moment in life when something comes out of their mouth that they wish they could snatch out of the air and stuff back inside. It can be something said to a loved one or a friend in private. For public figures, it often happens with a microphone in front of them when they have to think on their feet.
That’s what happened to Sergio Garcia on Tuesday at the European Tour awards dinner. Golf Channel’s Steve Sands asked Garcia a question in jest about having dinner with Woods at next month’s U.S. Open and the words that came out of Garcia’s mouth: “We’ll have him round for dinner every night. We’ll cook him fried chicken,” can’t be snatched back.
Certain moments – both good and bad – follow public figures through their lives, right to the end. When Tom Kite finally won his major in 1992 in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach he said, “Well, at least now I know what the first line of my obituary will be.”
That was good news. This is not.
Bob Knight won 902 basketball games, three national championships and an Olympic gold medal. “The chair” incident will be near the top of his obit. LeBron James can win a dozen NBA titles in Miami and no one will let him forget “The Decision.” Bill Buckner was a borderline Hall of Fame baseball player. His error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series is in the first sentence of any story written about him – even though the game had already been tied.
Fuzzy Zoeller’s “fried chicken and collared greens” comment in 1997 will be right there in the first two paragraphs with his two major championships someday. Woods can win 100 major titles and his marital infidelities in 2009 will follow him if he lives to 2109.
That’s life. And legacy. Now, Garcia has his very unfortunate legacy and, no matter how often he apologizes, no matter how sincere he may be, it isn’t going away. Not now. Not soon. Not ever.
That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t apologize. He should do so in person to Woods because it is the right thing to do. The remark was, as he put it, 'stupid' and mean. Unlike Zoeller, who wasn’t being malicious, just remarkably insensitive, Garcia seemed malicious because, as everyone knows, he and Woods can’t stand one another.
One of the sadder aspects of all this – from Garcia’s point-of-view – is that he was holding his own with Woods in the verbal sparring match that began during the third round of The Players Championship. He’d even shown some self-awareness earlier in the day on Tuesday when he said Woods was probably right to call him a whiner.
But then, on Tuesday, he came to his verbal/social/cultural 17th hole at Sawgrass. He didn’t put two in the water, he put about a dozen in the water. And, unlike in the movie “Tin Cup” he didn’t finally hole out. He’s not dry yet and won’t be anytime soon.
Of course, as in all things, there are ways to make some amends. The public apology was a first step; a personal apology should come next. Then some public gestures – even if they will be seen as PR moves – would be both smart and the right thing to do. Maybe a large donation to the Tiger Woods Foundation with the money earmarked for public schools in Washington.
Those sorts of things are the best Garcia can do right now. Woods is never going to truly forgive him, but Garcia needs to try anyway. He might also want to consider some sensitivity training – for his own sake, not anyone else’s. The only good thing about a mistake is that it gives you a chance to think about why you made it. Athletes are always saying, “I can learn from this” in the wake of defeat. This was the biggest loss Garcia has ever suffered. He would do himself a favor if he tried to learn from it.
Woods has now won the battle, just as he won the golf tournament when Garcia melted down on the 17th at Sawgrass a few weeks ago. His initial tweet in response to Garcia’s gaffe was pure Woods: he put a few extra bullets into the body while it’s still twitching. He’s entitled to do that.
Now though, Woods has another great opportunity. He should, at least publicly, accept Garcia’s apology. He should say something like “God knows I’ve made mistakes in my life that I regret. I’ve asked people to forgive me and been fortunate that so many people have done so. Sergio’s asked me to forgive him. I told him I hope we can start again on Square 1 and show one another the respect – on and off the golf course – that all of us would like to have.”
That would be game, set, match Tiger.
In all likelihood, the thought of letting Garcia off the mat a little won’t cross Woods’ mind now. And, if it does cross the mind of his agent or PR person, they aren’t likely to voice it to their boss. Imagine it though: Tiger the Magnanimous. It would be the most stunning thing Woods has done since he made the putt on 18 at Torrey Pines in 2008 to force the U.S. Open playoff with Rocco Mediate.
And there would be one huge difference: No one was surprised when Woods made that putt. Almost everyone would be shocked if he made this gesture.
Garcia just left him with a tap-in to win a major that could have more meaning than any victory already on his resume.
Knock it in Tiger.