VIRGINIA WATER, England – Sorry wasn’t the hardest word for Sergio Garcia. Anything but. Garcia uttered the word nine times in apologizing to Tiger Woods for the inappropriate comment that the Spaniard made about Woods during the European Tour’s annual dinner the night before.
Garcia said, “We will have him round every night. We will serve fried chicken,” when asked by Golf Channel’s Steve Sands if he would invite Woods around for dinner during the U.S. Open.
Cue a trip to the media center for the second day running. Garcia already had appeared the day before for a more traditional news conference. He was bullish and matter of fact in the first meeting with the media, offering an “it is what it is, part of life” line about his strained relationship with Woods. He was far more contrite the second time around.
“I want to send an apology,” Garcia said. “I didn’t mean to offend anyone. I was obviously caught off guard by the question. Don’t get me wrong; I understand that my answer was totally stupid and out of place. I can’t say ‘sorry’ enough.”
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem was at the European Tour’s dinner along with Euro chief George O’Grady. The evening was supposed to be a celebration of Europe’s Ryder Cup victory, with all 12 European team members along with captain Jose Maria Olazabal.
“I’d like to say ‘sorry’ to the European Tour and my European Ryder Cup teammates for taking the shine away from what was a wonderful dinner, a wonderful players’ awards dinner,” Garcia said.
“Finally, most importantly, I want to apologize to Tiger and anybody I could have offended by the comment I made. I feel sick about it. I’m truly sorry.”
The European Tour took Garcia’s apology to heart.
“Together with commissioner Tim Finchem of the PGA Tour, who attended the players’ awards dinner with me last night, we spoke to Sergio Garcia at the conclusion of his pro-am round,” O’Grady said.
“Sergio expressed very deep and sincere regret for his unguarded and, in his own words, ‘stupid’ remark, and we are also aware of his statement of apology issued at 12:25 a.m. this morning. Following our meeting, we have accepted his full apology, and we consider the matter closed. We are now looking forward to our flagship event, starting tomorrow morning.”
Garcia said he has tried to contact Woods personally. He and Woods, whose strained relationship was further frayed during their pairing at the recent Players Championship, don’t share cellphone numbers, so the Spaniard left a message with Woods’ agent, Mark Steinberg.
“I left him a message and told him that I was very sorry and that I would love to talk to them as soon as possible and make sure everything is OK,” Garcia said. “I told him how sorry I am and that obviously it was a bad comment that shouldn’t have been said.
“I’m sure that we will be able to talk soon and I will apologize to him face-to-face.”
Woods responded via Twitter.
“The comment that was made wasn’t silly. It was wrong, hurtful and clearly inappropriate,” Woods said in a series of tweets. “I’m confident that there is real regret the remark was made. The Players ended nearly two weeks ago, and it’s long past time to move and talk about golf.”
It is the second time Woods has heard a reference to “fried chicken,” following Fuzzy Zoeller’s 1997 remark at the Masters. “You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year. Got it? Or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve,” Zoeller said, in reference to Woods’ choosing the menu for the following year’s Masters champions dinner.
Zoeller apologized but suffered a backlash. He lost a $1 million contract with sponsor Kmart. Garcia was unaware of the Zoeller incident.
“I didn’t know about that,” he said. “I was made notice of that today. I think that was in ’97 and I was only 17 years old, and I really didn’t know about it.”
Garcia said he did not sleep well last night after the full realization hit home about what he had said.
“As soon as I left the dinner, I started getting a sick feeling in my body. I felt like my heart was going to come out of my body. I’ve had this sick feeling all day.”
It’s sometimes hard to warm to Garcia. He often comes off as brash, but there was no doubt his apology was heartfelt. Needless to say, Garcia’s participation in this event is secondary to his desire to put the comment behind him and move on.