Did that really happen? A comprehensive guide to the weirdest, wildest golf controversies of 2018

December 13, 2018

As 2018 concludes, it’s time to reflect on the year that was in golf. There were plenty of great shots, landmark victories and young stars on the rise — and we’ll get to those. But this piece is about appreciating the game’s spicier moments. Golf’s “controversies” are often borne of small issues — perceived slights, arcane rulings, over-served fans — but that just serves to make them more entertaining. So here, as determined by a GOLF panel (of one), broken down by category, awards-style, are GOLF’s Controversies of the Year.

golf controversy
2018 was (another) cracking year in the world of golf controversies.


Everyone says they hate slow play — players, fans, announcers, governing bodies. And yet these turtles dawdle along anyway, as those around them simmer, and simmer, and finally boil over…

The finalists:

4. PATRICK CANTLAY vs. THE FANS – While in the mix at the Players, Cantlay appeared to be having trouble taking the club away, leading to long, frustrating TV shots of the rising star standing over the ball. Nick Faldo was unsparing in his commentary: “You’ll have time to go make a coffee or double espresso before he hits the ball.”

3. TYRRELL HATTON vs. PHAVORTISM – With four holes left at WGC-Mexico, Hatton and Shubhankar Sharma were put on the clock — but their playing partner, Phil Mickelson, was not. Hatton, who has never been accused of levelheadedness, was apoplectic. “Phil goes, ‘Well, he obviously likes me.’ I was raging,” Hatton relayed after the round. Bogeying 18 to miss a playoff by a shot didn’t help matters.

2. J.B. HOLMES vs. THE GRAMMYS – J.B. Holmes quite literally held up the Red Carpet ceremony at the Grammy Awards while he spent close to four minutes choosing to lay up on No. 18 at Torrey Pines. Laying up! Into the rough, by the way…

And the winner is…

1. MAN vs. FINGER – During a pace-of-play “disagreement” at Southers Marsh, a (clever and underrated, actually) course just outside of Boston, a golfer bit off a fellow golfer’s finger. Bit it off! Three need-to-know things from the news report: 1. The man pled not guilty. Not guilty! Bold. 2. Witnesses described the sound as crunching “like a Dorito.” 3. Believe it or not, “alcohol was involved.” Talk about things getting out of hand (ducks).


The integrity of the game persists, thanks to stamping out these menaces to society.

The finalists:

4. LEXI vs. LOCAL RULES – You have to feel for Lexi , who seems to keep running afoul of the rules. In this case she went to take a preferred lie from the fairway on a soggy lift-clean-place day. Only problem? It wasn’t her fairway! That’s a one-shot penalty. But there’s a (semi-)happy ending to this one: A savvy rules official stopped her before she played from the wrong spot, saving her an additional penalty — and she went on to save par.

3. BRYSON’S COMPASS vs. PGA TOUR – Bryson DeChambeau’s subtle (or not-so-subtle) digs tends to fan the flames in these spats. “The pin locations are a little bit off every once in a while, so I’m making sure they’re in the exact right spot,” he said, taking a clear shot at the Tour. He added this: “It’s funny, people take notice when you start playing well.”

2. SUNG KANG vs. JOEL DAHMEN — After hitting his approach shot in a hazard at the Quicken Loans, Kang took a drop that was…pick your word. Ambitious. Optimistic. Generous. Dahmen, his playing partner, put it a different way: “He cheated.” You don’t hear the C-word dropped often on Tour.

And the winner is…

1. MOM’S FOOT vs. NOSY NEIGHBOR — Every golfer is looking for an edge at Q-School, and Doris Chen appeared to get exactly that when her ball was discovered in bounds after a wayward tee shot. But then a local homeowner reported that Chen’s mother had kicked the ball back into play! On some level, I guess you have to respect the loyalty — but in golf, subtlety is key. Chen was DQ’ed.


Captain America had himself a big year, making headlines for reasons good, bad and bizarre.

The finalists:

4. PATRICK REED vs. CAMERA CREW — We’ll never know the whole truth here. Was this a rogue cameraman jingling coins in his pocket? Or did he just catch Reed and his caddie in the wrong mood? Either way, it led to an intensely awkward greenside ejection…must-watch stuff.

Patrick Reed
Reed took issue with the noise of jingling change coming from the camera crew.

3. PATRICK REED vs. RULES OFFICIAL – Similarly awkward, but this incident, where Reed tried to get a free drop, included a telling name-drop: “Anyone else would get a drop out of there any day of the week,” he said. “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys.”  Oh, the foreshadowing!

2. PATRICK REED, MASTERS CHAMPION, vs. THE WORLD — This one is far more serious: Reed’s Green Jacket triumph was nearly overshadowed by the story that followed — Alan Shipnuck’s complex tale of family estrangement and what the day meant to his parents and sister, who watched from just miles away at their Augusta home but weren’t invited to attend.

And the winner is…

1. PATRICK REED’S EXTENDED FAMILY vs. U.S. RYDER CUP TEAM — You’d better read this one to make sense of it, because it involves a series of nuclear tweets from Reed’s wife, Justine, calling out U.S. team captain Jim Furyk. That led to a New York Times interview where Reed furthered the controversy. And somewhere further down the line came Justine’s mother lashing out on a GOLF.com article with the zinger “you are fat look like a frog,” which has really stuck with me.


Amateurs, sure, but these were some pro-level showdowns.

The finalists:

4. INTERN vs. TOURNAMENT DIRECTOR – Have you ever heard of a tournament director kicking her former intern out of an event and providing, “We feel very intimidated by you” as a reason? Then you haven’t dived deep enough into New York’s amateur golf scene in 2018.

3. GOLFER vs. GOOSE — This is just pure joy, and there’s really nothing controversial about it. Just an excuse to dial up the best photo of the year, courtesy Blissfield High School in southeast Michigan.

2. PRESIDENT TRUMP vs. SUZANN PETTERSEN (vs. SUZANN PETTERSEN) The LPGA star told a Norwegian paper that the president “cheats like hell,” which picked up some traction. “He always says he is the world’s best putter. But in all the times I’ve played him, he’s never come close to breaking 80,” she said. In the ensuing media frenzy, she walked her own comments back, calling them “fake news.” Nothing is more 2018 than calling your own comments fake news.

And the winner is…

1. FLORIDA MID-AM FINALIST vs. FIST — Perhaps the strangest story of the golf year requires a trip to the finals of the Florida Mid-Am, which was decided during a rain delay (which seems like a first) when one player alleged that his opponent sucker-punched him in the parking lot (also feels like a first). Any time the Charlotte County Sheriff’s office is involved in a ruling, something has gone seriously wrong.


Have the drunken, phone-wielding, Snapchatting fans gone completely mad? Have the wealthy, coddled, particular players gone soft? Depends who you ask.

The finalists:

4. HECKLER vs. WEBB’S CADDIE – Golf fans are familiar with the withering manner in which Steve Williams dealt with rogue fans or cameramen during the height of Tigermania. But I never remember seeing as comprehensive a verbal undressing as Webb Simpson’s caddie, Paul Tesori, gave a fan at the Dell Technologies Championship.

3. SPIETH vs. “TATER TOTS!” – This year felt like the tipping point in players starting to feel like the Waste Management’s party vibes have gone too far. Spieth suffered two particularly egregious mid-swing screams (one of ’em: “Tater tots!”) and refused to speak with the media after his first round. I think that may be his last start in Arizona for a while.

2. TIGER vs. BRITISH FAN  Have you ever heard Tiger Woods yell at a fan? That’s what happened on No. 18 at Carnoustie, where he needed a birdie to have a chance at making a playoff. Someone screamed just before impact, causing a flinchy one-handed followthrough from Woods before he whirled around toward the gallery, understandably perturbed. “What are you doing?!” A valid question! As it turns out, Frankie Molinari had this one locked up anyway.

And the winner is…

1. JUSTIN THOMAS vs. BUNKER GUY — This has a chance at being THE iconic player-fan interaction of the decade. The fan’s line — “Get in the bunker!” — and JT’s response — “Enjoy your day buddy, you’re gone” — have each entered the Tour lexicon. And while Thomas has embraced it, leaning into the ribbing and admitting he overreacted, this became an oft-cited example both of overzealous fans and oversensitive players.


Golf’s best players change year to year, but its stodgy institutions can always be counted on to dish out logic-defying rulings.

The finalists:

4. SPIETH vs. SCHEDULE – Let’s break this down: 1. Spieth doesn’t play enough PGA Tour events. 2. As punishment, Spieth will allegedly be prevented from playing PGA Tour events. 3. Instead, Spieth is actually, uh, encouraged to add a couple fall season events. I guess we got a bit of intrigue and more Spieth, so I guess that is a win-win.

3. AUGUSTA vs. LIGHT BEER – When the phrase “Dilly dilly!” was reportedly banned from the Masters, it pitted the world’s most exclusive golf club vs. Bud Light’s slogan of the year — a contrast in styles, to say the least.

2. RUDE GOLFER vs. OTHER GOLFERS – Aussie Bernice Peterson was banned from her golf club after more than 50 years of membership for a number of offenses, including “acting aggressively and swearing at other players at a pennants event.” I’m not sure what a pennants event is, but Peterson had a series of incredible responses, declaring that those were “personal opinions” and that despite “acting emotionally on occasions” she didn’t think she’d been given a fair shake.

So this was resolved as any petty golf club dispute should be — by the freaking Supreme Court! And she won! Tip o’ the cap to Bernice for fighting to retain what is sure to be an awkward membership going forward.

And the winner is…

1. PHIL vs. WAIT, WHAT?! – Our attention spans have gotten so short that we’ve already moved on from this spectacular bit of U.S. Open drama. But Phil Mickelson putted a ball, ran after it, and hockey-sticked it back before it could roll off the green. And he did it purposefully, refused to apologize, and told those offended to “toughen up.” This one had all the goods! But despite the outrage tsunami that crashed over Lefty in the ensuing days, we’ve all but moved on from this one. Phil being Phil and all that.


Last year Brandel Chamblee had an entire category of his own! Spreading the love this season.

The finalists:

4. FOX vs. HOT MIC – Because GOLF.com is a family site, I can’t expand much on this one except to provide a link to the conversation itself and tell you it is distinctly NSFW.

3. CURTIS STRANGE vs. CHUMMY BANTER Modern Tour pros have taken more and more criticism for getting too friendly. When the CareerBuilder Challenge went to extra holes, Strange expressed his displeasure on Twitter. “Watching Andrew Landry and Jon Rahm in playoff. Walking off tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”

2. JOHNNY MILLER vs. TIGER WOODS The soon-retired announcer didn’t mince words when talking about Woods’s decision to skip the Safeway. “You always have to handle Tiger a little with kid gloves,” he said. To be fair, what we’ve always appreciated about Johnny is his willingness to speak freely about everyone on Tour — even (especially?) Mr. Woods.

And the winner is…

1. PETER KESSLER vs. BRANDEL CHAMBLEE (and the world!)  Former Golf Channel personality Peter Kessler has gone nuclear on Twitter, and few in the golf world have escaped his ire. His words on Chamblee, his former colleague, were one particularly harsh example: “You are now a destructive, bad influence. Just go away. I’m nauseated.” Yikes!


To quote John Updike, “Golf appeals to the idiot in us, and the child.”

The finalists:

4. BROOKE HENDERSON vs. WEDGE — Winner? Henderson.

3. BROOKS vs. DJ?! — Winner? Team Europe.

2. PRO vs. PUBLICLY FIRED CADDIE – Winner? Nobody.

And the is winner…

1. BRYSON vs. HIS OWN MIND — Winner? Bryson! His brand, his golf game and ultimately his bank account. Within a month he had won twice on Tour. But with pin-in rulings and rules changes aplenty coming to 2019, DeChambeau sits high on our “controversies to watch” list. We can only hope the new year will be as fruitful.