Top 10: Most unsportsmanlike moments in golf

Some of the worst cases of unsporting behaviour in the 'gentleman’s game'

Golf is the gentleman’s game, and so in a gentlemanly fashion the game is played in a sporting manner.

But what about when the desire to win overtakes the ability to control emotions or behaviour?

After the gimme-gate of the 2015 Solheim Cup, we take a look at some of the most unsporting behaviour in the history of golf…which is not just limited to the players…

10. Ben Crane and Rory Sabbatini slow play incident


Known as one of the faster players on the course, Rory Sabbatini was paired with Ben Crane at the 2005 Booz Allen Classic. This proved to be a volatile combination.

Sabbatini – the winner of the event in 2003 – showed his displeasure at Crane’s playing speed by playing ahead on the 17th hole and walking toward the 18th tee leaving his playing partner on the fairway.

It turned out that the pair had been warned about slow play over the previous holes.

“Rory was frustrated because we were on the clock, and I understand that,” Crane said after his closing 4-under 67.

9. Sergio Garcia’s Players Championship heckling


Sergio polarises golf fans, and he’s no stranger to a bit of controversy.

But at the 2015 Players Championship, Garcia was mercilessly heckled by fans at TPC Sawgrass from his opening round.

The taunts became more loud and intense when the Spaniard during the three-way play-off with Rickie Fowler and little-known Kevin Kisner.

“It was great for the most part,” Garcia said about the badgering that started well before the three-hole aggregate playoff. “Obviously, some guys there that don’t deserve to be here watching golf, but that’s what it is.”

The insensitivity was not just confined to those watching in the galleries. US television commentator, Dan Hicks imitated the Spanish accent with his co-commentator suggesting that the 35-year old could use a “siesta.”

8. Annika Sörenstam vs. Team USA

The Solheim Cup has thrown up some controversies over the years – we could have had half of this list full of them – but one of the biggest involved the Swede.

Sörenstam accused the American team of bad sportsmanship as one of her fourball shots was forced to be retaken after the US side complained that she had played out of turn.

Initially the Swede had chipped in for a birdie from the rough beside a bunker, after the shot had been replayed the Americans went on to win the hole and the match, by 2 and 1.

“It is just really sad to see that the ugly part of them came out, because both Pat and Kelly are the nicest they have and it is just sad to see that, that they don’t even have sportsmanship,” said Sörenstam who was in tears following the greenside row.

7. Vijay Singh vs. Annika Sörenstam

Some may say this is not strictly ’unsporting’, but anything that lowers the accomplishments of fellow professionals is not exactly a ’sporting’ act.

With Sörenstam becoming the first woman to play a PGA Tour event in 58 years at the 2003 Colonial, it was met as a feel-good story.

After dominating the women’s game, the Swede had seemed to have earned the right to try her hand at the men’s game.

Vijay Singh was quoted as saying “I hope she misses the cut, Why? Because she doesn’t belong out here.”

6. Bubba Watson vs. Steve Elkington


Bubba Watson is a polarising golfer. It’s not a secret. There is nothing wrong with that.

But the Florida native’s exchanges with 2008 Zurich Classic playing partner Steve Elkington were caught on camera, highlighting the two-time Masters champion’s temper.

Television microphones picked up Watson saying, “Steve can kiss my ***,” with the last word bleeped.

This behaviour continued, with tension becoming more and more obvious with Watson refusing to shake the hand of his playing partner, despite shaking the hand of Shigeki Maruyama and his caddie.

“I made a bad decision and I want to apologize to everybody in the tournament, whoever heard it,” Watson said later. “You know, I don’t drink or smoke, but every once in a while I get a little angry and I said some stuff I probably shouldn’t have said.”

5. Faldo’s silent treatment of David Gilford


During the 124th Open at St Andrews, the Ryder Cup duo were drawn together and after shaking hands on the first tee, proceeded to play four hours without a single word before shaking hands on the 18th green.

This scenario has more context when you consider that the (then) defending Open Champion had been paired with Gilford during the disastrous 1990 Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island.

Gilford and Faldo were annihilated, with Faldo being widely criticised for leaving debutant Gilford to stew in his own bogeys.


4. Sergio spits into the cup

El Nino was fined for spitting into the hole at the 13th of the 2007 CA Championship. Unlike Tiger – who makes our top 3 – he spat directly into the cup.

Garcia missed his par putt and in an interview with NBC after his round admitted his mistake stating, “I missed the putt and I wasn’t too happy. I didn’t spit, I just let it go down.”


3. Tiger caught spitting on green


An idol to many golf fans of a certain age, the 14-time Major winner was caught on camera spitting on a green at the 2011 Dubai Desert Classic.

After missing a par putt on the 12th hole, Woods broke course rules by spitting on the green.

Sky Sports commentator Ewen Murray stated: ““Somebody now has to come behind him and maybe putt over his spit. It does not get much lower than that.”

Woods was fined for his antics after being found guilty of breaching rules during his final round at the Emirates Golf Club, Dubai.


2. Suzann Pettersen vs. Alison Lee


The ice-cold Norwegian has been widely criticised for her actions at the 2015 Solheim Cup. Playing in the fourballs with playing partner Charley Hull against American duo Alison Lee and Brittany Lincicome – the Americans thought the putt on the 17th hole had been conceded as Hull walked away after Lee rolled her ball close with her previous effort.

With both European players walking off the green, the rookie Lee, picked up her ball despite the European duo not expressing the hole had been conceded.

The Americans subsequently lost the hole.

“I’ve never felt more gutted and truly sad about what went down Sunday on the 17th at the Solheim Cup,” Pettersen posted on Instagram.

“I am so sorry for not thinking about the bigger picture in the heat of the battle and competition.


“I was trying my hardest for my team and put the single match and the point that could be earned ahead of sportsmanship and the game of golf itself!


“I feel like I let my team down and I am sorry.”


1. 1999 Ryder Cup team celebrations


With Justin Leonard making his long, snaking putt to seal the Ryder Cup for the US team, the celebrations were wild, with players entire families storming the green to celebrate one of the greatest comebacks in Ryder Cup history.

The fans had no consideration for Leonard’s opponent, Spain’s Jose Maria Olazábal, who had to wait until the celebrations died down before attempting a 25-foot putt to keep Europe’s hopes alive. He missed.

Olazábal described the celebrations as “a very ugly picture to see.”

Europe’s 1999 vice-captain, Sam Torrance called it “the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen,” and went further by accusing American player Tom Lehman in particular of improper behaviour

U.S. Captain Ben Crenshaw was forced to issue and apology on behalf of the entire U.S. team.

“It really was not something that we need to be proud of,” he said. “For that, we’re truly sorry.”

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