Woods: Garcia comment hurtful, time to move on

Thursday - 5/23/2013, 12:15pm EDT

FILE - In this June 16, 2002 file photo, Sergio Garcia, left, and Tiger Woods talk on the 11th hole while waiting for play to resume after a rain delay during the final round of the U.S. Open Golf Championship in Farmingdale, N.Y. Garcia was at a European Tour awards dinner Tuesday night, May 21, 2013 when he was jokingly asked if he would have Woods over for dinner during the U.S. Open. The Spaniard replied, "We'll have him round every night. We will serve fried chicken." Woods took to Twitter on Wednesday, May 22, 2013 and said the comment wasn't silly, rather it was wrong and hurtful. (AP Photo/Dave Martin, File)

DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer

Sergio Garcia apologized to Tiger Woods for saying he would serve fried chicken if they were to have dinner at the U.S. Open, an ugly addition to nearly two weeks of verbal sparring.

What had been a celebration of European golf at an awards dinner south of London shifted suddenly to a racially sensitive moment involving Woods, the No. 1 golfer in the world and the only player of African-American heritage on the PGA Tour.

Garcia said he meant to give a funny answer to a playful question, and it turned out to be "totally stupid and out of place."

"I feel sick about it and I feel truly, truly sorry," he said Wednesday from the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, site of the European Tour's flagship event.

The two golfers have exchanged barbs the last 11 days, dating to the third round of The Players Championship when Garcia implied that Woods purposely stirred up the gallery as the Spaniard was playing a shot. Woods said it was not surprising that Garcia was complaining.

Garcia and his Ryder Cup teammates were at a dinner Tuesday night when the emcee, Golf Channel's Steve Sands, jokingly asked Garcia if he would have Woods over for dinner during the U.S. Open.

"We'll have him round every night," Garcia replied. "We will serve fried chicken."

The remark was reminiscent of Fuzzy Zoeller's similar comment about Woods during his record-setting victory in the 1997 Masters, where Woods became the first player of black heritage to win a major.

Garcia issued a statement through the European Tour after the dinner that did not mention Woods by name. He apologized "for any offense that may have been caused" by answering the question with a "silly remark."

"But in no way was the comment meant in a racist manner," the statement said.

Woods responded Wednesday morning with a series of tweets that said: "The comment that was made wasn't silly. It was wrong, hurtful and clearly inappropriate. 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 on and talk about golf."

That was one thing upon which both players finally agreed.

Garcia held an impromptu news conference at Wentworth to elaborate on his statement.

"I want to also apologize to my Ryder Cup teammates who were there last night for taking the shine away from a wonderful event, and finally and foremost, I want to apologize to Tiger and to anyone I could have offended," he said. "I felt very sick about it and feel really bad, and just hope to settle things down and move on."

Garcia said he left a voicemail for Mark Steinberg, Woods' agent at Excel Sports, because he doesn't have a phone number for Woods. Steinberg did not immediately respond to an email to confirm he received the call, or if Woods planned to call Garcia.

"I would love to talk to them as soon as possible and make sure that everything is OK, tell them how sorry I am and obviously it was a bad comment that shouldn't have been said," Garcia said.

Certain foods, fried chicken and watermelon in particular, have been used in dehumanizing caricatures of blacks from as early as the beginning America's segregation era in the 19th century. The imagery has become less common in the decades since integration.

But it surfaced when Woods was emerging as golf's biggest star. He was on his way to a record score and a 12-shot win at Augusta National in '97 when Zoeller, who grew up in southern Indiana, spoke of his performance that week.

"So you know what you guys do when he gets in there? Pat him on the back, say congratulations, enjoy it, and tell him not to serve fried chicken next year. Got it?" Zoeller said. And then he added as he walked away, "Or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve."

The remark followed Zoeller, a popular two-time major champion, for the rest of his career and cost him major endorsements.

Garcia's main sponsor is TaylorMade-adidas, which issued a statement Wednesday that his 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," the statement said. "We discussed with Sergio that his comments are clearly out of bounds and we are continuing to review the matter."