As Tiger Woods prepared to make his comeback from his off-course problems at the Masters 12 months ago, Padraig Harrington was sounded out by an English Sunday tabloid on spitting, cursing and club throwing on the golf course.
Not being party to the interview, I don’t know if he was asked about Woods in particular but the headline in the British Sunday People read - ‘You Disgust Me, Tiger.’
“No one wants to see spitting on the course. It’s disgusting and there’s nothing worse. There is no excuse for it - not unless you’re choking to death!” Harrington was quoted as saying in the piece. “I want to see the Tour do something about it. If a code of discipline is going to be adopted, Augusta is the ideal place to start.”
Speaking to him before the Shell Houston Open at Redstone the following week, Harrington explained that it was up to the players to realise that refraining from spitting on the golf course was simply good manners. And he feared that lesser known players would be liable to get caught more often than veteran stars who are used to the cameras.
Harrington said: “I absolutely abhor people spitting on the golf course and the big problem is when it is a player who is not used to being on TV, gets into contention and he is doing his regular thing. When it’s early in the week of a tournament they show the guy hitting a putt and we only see whether the putt goes in or not because the director cuts to something else straight away.
“But when he’s in the lead near the end of the week, they show him after the putt and how he is reacting to it going in or missing. And than is when he starts spitting. A journalist was asking me recently if the tour referees should get involved. But it is nothing to do with the referee. It is up to the player not to spit as a matter of common courtesy. It is not like you are running down a soccer pitch at full tilt. You have no alternative on a soccer pitch - it still doesn’t look good - but you have no alternative.”
Given the outcry against Woods on Sunday, many have wondered why Steve Marino was not censured for spitting during the final round of the AT&T at Pebble Beach. Perhaps they should have asked the same question nearly four years ago, when Sergio Garcia spat in the cup at Doral and the incident was played down by PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem.
Finchem said that he planned to talk to Garcia about an incident that was seen by millions around the world. It’s likely that he fined Garcia too, but the PGA Tour’s policy of keeping scandal quiet may not have been the best way to deter the spitters.
Finchem said: “As I normally don’t, I won’t comment on the specifics here. But I will say that we try to avoid conduct that creates a distraction, a negative for the fans and a distraction for the media. Thankfully, on the whole on the PGA Tour, we don’t have too much of it. When we do, we have to move forward. I’m sure I will have a conversation about it with Sergio.”
Had the US Tour fined Garcia $100,000 and suspended him for a month, it is unlikely that we would ever have seen a player spit on a golf course again. Not even Tiger Woods.
Then again, it says little for the state of the game that golfers have to be told that deliberately spitting on green or a tee is out of bounds.