When a golfer loses his temper, not even he can predict the size or scope of the ensuing tremors. Mad men can do strange things, which begins to explain what happened to John Huston not too many years ago in the first round of the Honda Classic at Weston Hills Golf and Country Club in Fort Lauderdale. Huston hooked his drive into the lake on the par-5 7th hole, teed up another ball and...kerplunk. Leery of making the same mistake three times, Huston reloaded and, now hitting five, sent his ball deep into the right rough.
Upset, Huston reared back and launched his Wilson Whale driver sidearm, but as was already abundantly clear on this day, his timing was off. He released the club an instant too late and watched helplessly as it helicoptered into the same well that had swallowed his first two balls. The club, with its buoyant graphite shaft, bobbed up and down in the water, as if to further mock the humiliated Huston, who by now was incensed. Without a moment's hesitation he waded in after it, failing to realize that there was a pronounced shelf at the edge of this lake and the water dropped off into a deep abyss. When Mike Hulbert, who with Paul Azinger was playing in Huston's group, heard a splash and turned around, all he could see of Huston was his hat.
Huston, "burning hot" in Tourspeak, had simply extinguished himself. He retrieved the club, played his final two holes soaking wet and for sometime afterward was known as Swamp Thing. Yet Huston is hardly the only player to go off the deep end. There's something uniquely maddening about golf.
Without delving into golf's psychological gobbledygook, suffice it to say that because the ball doesn't move until you hit it, any ham-handed efforts cannot be passed off as the result of some diabolical spin, bad bounce or off-speed stuff. There are no opponents, no sounds and precious few distractions of any kind to blame for a poor shot. The obvious conclusion: It's you, dummy!
This bleak realization is tough on average players, but it really doesn't sit well with touring pros who have significantly more invested in each round than a greens fee, four hours and a $2 Nassau. Says sports psychologist Bob Rotella, "The more you work at it, the more it hurts." The end result: great moments in apoplexy.
"The reason I get mad is that I can't handle mediocrity," says Fulton Allem, one of the hottest burners on Tour. "If you want to fly first-class, you're going to be upset if you get stuck in coach. I don't like second best."
One of the oft-told stories on Tour has Fulty looking to vent on the 7th tee at the MCI Classic in Hilton Head when he turned to his caddie, Bob (Bullet) Burns, and said, "Bullet, give me something to break." Burns's response: "Why don't you break par?" Allem and his playing partners, Nick Price and Vijay Singh, laughed for about 20 minutes. "Nick and Vijay couldn't hit the ball on the next tee," says Burns, who no longer loops for Allem. "Fulty's a great guy to work for, he's a friend of mine, but he does crazy stuff. He has no patience."
You want crazy? Steve Pate got so exercised that he broke a club—over his neck. Craig Stadler went so apespit after a particularly nasty 360-degree lip-out that Brad Faxon, one of his playing partners, says he was scared for two holes. Huston was on the second-to-last hole of a U.S. Open qualifier when he threw a club that broke, and the shaft bounced back and stuck in his arm, creating such a bloody mess that he had to apply a crude tourniquet to play the final hole.
In 1982, during the second round at Doral, Curtis Strange set the standard by which all other Tour temper tantrums are measured. After driving his ball into the rough on the 12th hole, Strange snapped as he was walking behind his caddie, Gene Kelley. Strange kicked the bottom of his bag, which was still on Kelley's shoulder, and both bag and caddie went tumbling. "My yardage book and cigarettes went flying," Kelley says. "I was in shock. I was dumbfounded as to why he would ever do something like that."
Kelley finished the round, but he knew something had happened to his back. Three weeks later he had surgery to fuse two vertebrae. He hired an attorney and sued Strange, but settled out of court for medical expenses and a small amount of cash. Strange's version of events doesn't differ much from Kelley's. "I kicked the bag, and it fell off his shoulder," Strange says. "He went to try to catch it, and obviously he didn't. He said he hurt his back. We settled out of court. It's actually kind of comical now when I think about it. The bottom of the bag was staring right at me, and it was so tempting to kick the pudding out of it."