Tuesday 21 November 2017

Sergio offers grovelling apology: 'I feel sick about it and truly, truly sorry'

Spain's Sergio Garcia
Spain's Sergio Garcia

Sergio Garcia has escaped punishment for what could be construed as a racist remark about Tiger Woods after offering an unreserved apology for his "stupid and out of place" comments at the European Tour's annual awards ceremony.

But the Spaniard's major sponsors are continuing to review the matter after distancing themselves from his "offensive" remark relating to the world number one.

Garcia, who has been involved in a public row with Woods since the Players Championships at Sawgrass this month, was on stage with the rest of the victorious Ryder Cup team, including captain Jose Maria Olazabal, on Tuesday evening.

During a question and answer session hosted by the Golf Channel's Steve Sands, the 33-year-old was asked if he would invite Woods to dinner one night during the upcoming US Open.

"We will have him round every night," Garcia said. "We will serve fried chicken."

Garcia initially issued an apology overnight for his "silly remark" and another following his pro-am round at Wentworth ahead of the BMW PGA Championship was enough for European Tour chief executive George O'Grady and PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem to consider the matter closed.

The European Tour's code of behaviour states that: "On becoming a member each person voluntarily submits himself to standards of behaviour and ethical conduct beyond those required of ordinary golfers and members of the public."

The Tour handbook lists examples of potential minor or serious breaches of the code, including for 'injurious conduct' which is described as: "Actions or comments that may harm or discredit officials, fellow Members, sponsors, promoters, volunteers, third party contractors or the PGA European Tour and that does cause or is deemed likely to cause significant negative media or long term damage to any of the aforementioned persons."

Woods responded via Twitter - just moments before Garcia gave a second press conference at Wentworth in 24 hours - writing: "The comment that was made wasn't silly. It was wrong, hurtful and clearly inappropriate.

"I'm confident that there is real regret that the remark was made. The Players ended nearly two weeks ago and it's long past time to move on and talk about golf."

Garcia said: "I want to send out an unreserved apology, I did not mean to offend anyone. I was caught off guard by the question but don't get me wrong, I understand my answer was totally stupid and out of place.

"I can't say sorry enough. I would also like to say sorry to the European Tour and my Ryder Cup team-mates for taking the shine away from a wonderful dinner that we all enjoyed until that moment.

"Finally and most importantly I want to apologise to Tiger and anyone that I could have offended. I feel sick about it and truly, truly sorry. Hopefully we can settle things down and move on."

Garcia said he wanted to speak to Woods directly. He does not have his phone number but has left a message with Woods' agent Mark Steinberg.

Asked if he accepted his comment was racist, Garcia added: "It was not meant that way. I was caught off guard by what seemed to be a fun question and tried to give a funny answer that came out totally wrong."

Garcia's remark was similar to one made by Fuzzy Zoeller in 1997. As Woods was about to win the Masters which would entitle him to choose the champions' dinner menu for the following year, Zoeller said: "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 later apologised and said he had been misconstrued, but subsequently lost lucrative endorsement deals.

A statement from Garcia's major sponsors TaylorMade-adidas read: "Sergio Garcia's recent comment was offensive and in no way aligns with TaylorMade-adidas Golf's values and corporate culture.

"We have spoken with Sergio directly and he clearly has regret for his statement and we believe he is sincere. We discussed with Sergio that his comments are clearly out of bounds and we are continuing to review the matter."

Asked if he thought about pulling out of the European Tour's flagship event, which gets under way tomorrow, Garcia said: "If you asked me that this morning I might have.

"My mind is not in the greatest place at the moment but I feel like the tournament deserves to have me, it has nothing to do with it. It was all on me.

"As soon as I left the dinner I started to get a sick feeling. I didn't really sleep at all. I felt like my heart was going to come out of my body. It was tough to hit a shot (in the pro-am) without thinking about it.

"I want to go out there tomorrow and try and give everything I have. I'll try my hardest to do well and make sure that people can enjoy watching me play."

World number two Rory McIlroy, a good friend of both Woods and Garcia, said: "It was an off-the-cuff comment and it shouldn't have been said and I think Sergio realised that as soon as he said it."

Luke Donald added: "We all know Sergio, he says his mind and sometimes he doesn't have that filter unfortunately. It was an unfortunate incident. He's full of regret, he wished he hadn't said it. I don't think he even meant to say it in a way. It just came out and straight away it was more of I guess an undertone of trying to be stereotypical rather than have those undertones of racism."

Justin Rose compared it to a Stevie-Williams-type statement, a reference to Woods' former caddie who explained - at a caddies dinner - his exuberant celebration when winning a tournament with new employer Adam Scott in 2011 by saying: "It was my aim to shove it up that black a*******."

"Sergio does have a big heart and he's excitable as well. You love him and sometimes it can also get in his way unfortunately," Rose said.

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