Tiger Drop BMW

Tiger Drop BMW

Tiger Woods is no stranger to controversy. His reputation has been on the line for personal matters, and most recently, for questionable golf rules. After a few violations, some members of the golf community perceive Woods’ approach to the rules of golf as cavalier. This perception sparked a piece in Golf Magazine by Brandel Chamblee in which Chamblee ‘graded’ some of the members of the PGA Tour for their 2013 performance. He presented a grade of ‘F‘ to Woods. Mind you, Tiger won five separate tournaments this year, but the grade wasn’t for Tiger’s results. Rather, it was for his handling, or lack of respect for the rules of golf.

“When I was in the fourth grade, I cheated on a math test and when I got the paper back it had “100” written at the top and just below the grade, was this quote, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!” It was an oft-quoted line from the epic poem “Marmion” by Sir Walter Scott, and my teacher’s message was clear. Written once more beneath that quote was my grade of “100”, but this time with a line drawn through it and beneath that an F. I never did ask my teacher how she knew I cheated and I certainly didn’t protest the grade. I knew I had done the wrong thing and my teacher the right, but I never forgot the way I felt when I read that quote.  I remember when we only talked about Tiger’s golf. I miss those days. He won five times and contended in majors and won the Vardon Trophy and … how shall we say this … was a little cavalier with the rules.”

Does Tiger deserve this harsh judgment? Perhaps. We’ve seen a number of questionable rule following moments from the golf star this year, starting with controversy at the Masters this April. During the tournament, Tiger took an incorrect drop after hitting a ball into the water.  The issue in that particular case wasn’t brought to light until after the round, and the officials handed down a two stroke penalty. Many golfers thought Tiger should have withdrawn from the tournament as a show of respect to the game.

Bowing out of a multimillion dollar tournament may sound unusual to non-golf fans, but golf is a strange game where you yourself are the enforcer of any rules violations, and if a rule is indeed violated, it is considered a badge of honor to disqualify yourself.  When you then mix together a rules violation at the biggest tournament of the year by the most polarizing golfer of all time, you can imagine the media firestorm that creates.  I’m sure Tiger hoped that everything would blow over after the incident, but he wasn’t so lucky.

Prior to the Masters, Tiger received a two stroke penalty in an HSBC Championship in Abu Dhabi for taking a free drop in a situation in which it was not allowed.

Then in May, during The Players Championship, Tiger hit his tee shot into a water hazard.  The rules would state in this circumstance that the golfer would have to take a one stroke penalty and then play his third shot from where the ball entered the hazard.  Where he decided to hit that third shot from seemed much further up the fairway from where the ball went into the hazard, at least according to the announcers and seemingly everyone in the Twitterverse.

Then just last month, Tiger was penalized another two strokes after he addressed his ball under a tree and the ball seemed to move slightly.  A television camera happened to catch the ball move a tiny bit and Tiger was approached after the round, and even after seeing the video still did not feel as if the ball had moved, but he was still given a two stroke penalty once more.

In all the years of watching golf, I can remember Tiger having one other rule infraction in question, and now in 2013, he has four.  It seems a bit strange, but we also have to remember that he is the only member of the PGA Tour that has multiple cameras on him for every single shot of an entire tournament, so he is a position to be judged by the masses more often than other players.

Brandel

Brandel

Though Tiger’s reputation for following the rules isn’t exactly squeaky clean, Chamblee’s words are still harsh, and Woods is not happy about it. Tiger’s agent Mark Steinberg shot back at Chamblee in a statement to ESPN.

“There’s nothing you can call a golfer worse than a cheater,” Steinberg said. “This is the most deplorable thing I have seen. I’m not one for hyperbole, but this is absolutely disgusting. Calling him a cheater? I’ll be shocked, stunned if something is not done about this. Something has to be done.

“There are certainly things that just don’t go without response. It’s atrocious. I’m not sure if there isn’t legal action to be taken. I have to give some thought to legal action.”

Frankly, I’ve never heard of legal action over an editorial in magazine, but it looks like Chamblee took Steinberg’s threat seriously. He took to Twitter to diffuse the situation.

Screen Shot 2013-10-29 at 2.26.53 PM

Screen Shot 2013-10-29 at 2.26.53 PM

Screen Shot 2013-10-29 at 2.27.13 PM

Screen Shot 2013-10-29 at 2.27.13 PM

With that apology last week, and the fact that the golf season is over, logic follows that this feud would be put to rest.  Turns out that’s not the case. Last weekend, Tiger Woods faced off against Rory McIlroy in China in a made-for-TV money grab at Mission Hills (the two split $3.5M for showing up and playing 18 holes). Tiger sat down prior to the exhibition for a press conference. Turns out the US reporters flew all the way to China to ask Tiger his thoughts on Chamblee. What Tiger said was borderline shocking, out of character, and perhaps even a crude ultimatum.

“All I am going to say is that I know I am going forward.  But then, I don’t know what the Golf Channel is going to do or not. But then that’s up to them. The whole issue has been very disappointing as he didn’t really apologize and he sort of reignited the whole situation.  So the ball really is in the court of the Golf Channel and what they are prepared to do.”

There is something important to understand here: Brandel Chamblee wrote his piece for Golf Magazine.  Golf Magazine has zero affiliation with The Golf Channel.  But Chamblee is one of the Golf Channel’s lead commentators and has made a name for himself due to his harsh criticism of numerous golfers, not just Tiger. It seems that Tiger is basically inferring that if the Golf Channel does not fire Chamblee, Tiger won’t make himself available to them any longer.  It’s a real power play by Tiger, and reminds me of the situation Michael Jordan got into with Sports Illustrated.  In 1994, when Michael Jordan retired from basketball to play baseball with the Chicago White Sox, Sports Illustrated had the below photo on the cover.

Jordan White Sox

Jordan White Sox

That cover and the column behind it enraged Jordan so badly that he vowed to never do another interview with Sports Illustrated again.  Almost 20 years, later, he still hasn’t given a quote to Sports Illustrated.

Frankly, it appears that Tiger may have got on the phone with his good friend and Nike partner Jordan to discuss that situation.  And it’s very dangerous to the Golf Channel’s reputation. Even today, Tiger IS professional golf.  The ratings when he is in a tournament dwarf the ratings when he isn’t playing.  It’s unlike any golfer in the history of the game.  That said, why would Tiger decide to put the Golf Channel in this tough spot?  They had nothing to do with Golf Magazine electing to publish what Chamblee wrote. Yet the threat of cutting their connection to Tiger Woods puts the reputation of the Golf Channel at risk.  To their credit, Golf Channel has yet to release a statement in regards to Tiger’s comments.

It sure looks like Tiger is pulling a grade school move of not liking what is going on and deciding to take his ball and go home.  There is no doubt that the Golf Channel needs Woods, but it also seems like a misguided move by Tiger to try to strong arm the channel into this situation.  Managing your reputation sometimes requires standing up to bullies, and as much as I hate to say it, Tiger Woods is being a bully.  I hope the Golf Channel stands firm and doesn’t reprimand Chamblee, forcing Tiger to show his hand.

But, all that said, I’ll still watch Tiger golf any day of the week.