The biggest feud in golf right now got unexpectedly racist last night after Sergio Garcia said he would serve "fried chicken" to Tiger Woods during the upcoming U.S. Open. That reference, hurled at Woods by another golfer before, has some very serious racial connotations. Garcia quickly apologized, saying his comment was meant to be "silly," but Woods isn't having any of it. So what was already a years-long rivalry between two great players has now transformed into a full-fledged war of words with racial undertones fueling the No. 1 ranked golfer in the world heading into golf's major summer tournaments.
When Garcia was participating in a Q-and-A at the PGA's European Tour awards show Tuesday night, he was asked if he would have Woods over for dinner during the U.S. Open.
"We will have him 'round every night," Garcia said. "We will serve fried chicken."
If you say anything involving "fried chicken" and a black person, you are going to be rightfully labeled a racist. That definitely happened in this case. And the world of professional golf, before Tiger Woods burst on the scene, was never a very accepting place for black people. In many ways it still isn't, but back in 1997 — the year Woods won his first Masters — the outspoken American golfer Fuzzy Zoeler made a similar comment. Zoeller called the 22-year-old Woods "a little boy," and then this happened: "He's doing everything it takes to win. So, you know what you guys do when he gets in here? You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year. Got it." Zoeller started to walk away from reporters, satisfied with himself, before turning and adding: "Or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve."
Any public admiration for Zoeller disappeared shortly thereafter. Garcia, or one of the PGA execs in the room last night, realized how bad his remarks were — and the dinner ended shortly thereafter. So Garcia sent out his initial apology out late last night: "I apologize for any offense that may have been caused by my comment," Garcia said. "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." Garcia, the 14th ranked golfer in the world and a longtime Woods rival, echoed that "silly" excuse at an emergency press conference Wednesday morning. Garcia asked for forgiveness, claimed he couldn't sleep last night, and insisted that he unsuccessfully tried to contact Woods through his agent. He also said he was unaware of Zoeller's infamous remarks. (Garcia emerged on the pro tour in 1999 with a duel against Woods at the PGA Championship.) "It was a funny question. I tried to give a funny answer," Garcia said at the press conference. "I'm very, very sorry. I cannot apologize enough times."
The spat between Woods and Garcia flared up again roughly two weeks ago at the Player's Championship. Garcia was lining up for a shot as Woods went to pull a club from his bag. Seeing that Woods was making an aggressive club choice — and this being Tiger Woods — the crowd started to roar. Except this was all happening during Garcia's back swing. Garcia's shot went into the trees. He blamed Woods for his poor stroke.
So cut to Monday, when Woods was asked at a charity event if he would call Garcia to squash the beef. "No," Woods replied. Garcia was asked the same thing at another event later that day. His response: "First of all, I don't have his number. And secondly, I did nothing wrong and don't have anything to say to him. And he wouldn't pick up the phone anyway. But that's OK; I don't need him as a friend," Garcia told Golf.com.
As we said, these two have quite the history. It goes all way back to that 1999 PGA Championship. Let's let the experts at Golf.com explain:
A teenage Garcia irritated Woods at the 1999 PGA Championship by pointing across the course at Tiger as if to challenge him. Sergio tweaked Tiger's nose again shortly afterward by beating him in a made-for-TV match and celebrating too much for Woods's tastes. Then there was the 2006 Open Championship at Hoylake when Tiger went out in the final group along with Sergio who was dressed all in yellow. Tiger won and reportedly texted friends: "I just bludgeoned Tweety Bird."
These two aren't friends, have never been friends, and won't be friends any time soon. Garcia can apologize all he wants, but if this feud wasn't going away to begin with, it's certainly not dying down after you add a racial layer to it.
And Woods isn't giving in. "The comment that was made wasn't silly. It was wrong, hurtful and clearly inappropriate," Woods said on Twitter Wednesday morning. "I'm confident that there is real regret that the remark was made." He then expressed his desire to move on and "talk about golf." Garcia is probably happy to move on, at least until these two meet on the course again. Because plenty of people are expecting something like this will happen:
Can't wait for Tiger to body Sergio in every tournament going forward.You don't give that type of athlete any more motivation.— Joe La Puma (@JLaPuma) May 22, 2013
Good luck, Tweety bird. The U.S. Open starts on June 13.