Professional golfers have a unique life even when considered among other professional athletes. Their game, as is often repeated by amateur golf coaches everywhere, holds more obstacles in the space between one’s ears than all the combined yardage of the links at St. Andrews. PGA Tour professionals don’t really compete against one another, they compete against the punishing weight of the details of the game as they crush down in the silent moments between shots. When you take the natural stresses of a competitive golf game and add cameras, grandstands, and galleries of fans, it’s not hard to see why golf pros can be some of the most notoriously temperamental in sports. In fact, it’s even understandable that some golfers would occasionally have an outburst that gets them labeled jerks by their peers and fans. But most of the time, an effort at professionalism or cordiality following the outburst can replenish the stores of goodwill in the hearts of golf-lovers.
But in addition to being an extremely personal, meditative game, golf is also a haven for entitlement, condescension, mistreatment and smugness. It’s easy to see why: a country club membership is many thousands of dollars a year, a good set of clubs can run you upwards of $1,000, and even playing a public course can quickly become an affair costing hundreds of dollars once fees, carts, shoes and food are included. Those who have the time and money to play golf from a young age seriously enough to make the professional circuit are almost always of the upper crust. So it’s less than surprising to hear about golfers treating their caddies like verbal punching bags, ignoring young fans, denying knowledge of egregious performance enhancing drug use, or even systematically cheating on spouses with any adult entertainer who crosses into their field of view. The life of a professional athlete is hardly as easy as the casual fan would make it out to be. But these PGA Pros are the repeat offenders whose antics can make the richest, most privileged sport outside of polo seem a little trashy.
17 Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods has more than paid for his well-known brush with jerkdom. That’s why he’s all the way at the bottom of this list: with one swing of a golf club, Tiger went from the golden boy of the PGA, a multi-million dollar athlete who made tour events look like putt-putt challenges and his tee-off partners look like fools—and he didn’t even get to swing the damn club. That privilege fell to Woods’s ex-wife, Elin Nordegren. After finding out Woods had been secretly liaising with a slew of adult entertainers in 2009, she ensured that golf’s prodigal son became a pariah overnight thanks to his cheating ways.
16 Pat Perez
Over the course of this list, we’ll meet several kinds of golf jerks: there are the caddy-abusers, the downright asinine fools, and the sore losers, just to name a few. Pat Perez is a prime example of the latter, known for profane outbursts and club-over-knee temper tantrums in a game that prides itself on near-Victorian levels of decorum. At the 2011 Reno-Tahoe open, for example, he needed a dressing down from his father over his loud use of foul language. As the tourney neared its end and Perez missed an eight foot birdie putt, rather than congratulate his playing partner on his par and likely victory, Perez decided to stamp off in a fury, remove a water bottle from his pocket and ceremoniously slam it on the grass.
15 Phil Mickelson
Before anyone jumps up to defend Lefty, let’s be clear: I’m not talking about Phil Mickelson, Masters champion and generally good guy. I’m talking about Phil Mickelson the character from Season 5 of Entourage. That guy was a real sneaky jerk. The real life Mickelson, potential affinity for gambling aside, rarely ever makes headlines due to bad behavior, and on the rare times it has happened, Lefty has stepped up and recovered. But Entourage Phil? That guy teaches studio executives to golf both left and right handed so they can hustle actors out of their dream roles. Jerk.
14 Seve Ballesteros
13 Colin Montgomerie
The Ryder Cup is one of the most hotly contested trophies in golf history, boiling with national pride as well as golfer bragging rights. The teams consist of the best American golfers and European golfers, chosen by team captains, and some of the largest egos in the sport are unsurprisingly involved. So when a captain of the European team—like Colin Montgomerie was in 1997—questions an American counterpart’s personal readiness for the tournament by invoking that golfer’s ongoing (and messy) divorce, tempers will flare. Monty has done a lot since then to make amends, but when Fred Funk calls you “The Jerk of the World,” that really means something.
12 Jessica Korda
Jessica Korda has the dubious honor of introducing an interesting subset of the caddie-abuser variety of golf jerk on this list: the mid-round caddie sacker. Korda, a young tour standout in the 2013 U.S. Women’s Open, threw a tantrum for the ages while firing her caddie in between the 10th and 11th holes. Writing for Forbes, Patrick Rishe said of the incident, “If I’m the commissioner of the women’s golf tour, I don’t want people tuning in every week to see the melodrama associated with the next hissy fit thrown by a spoiled young woman.”
11 Robert Allenby
Our second mid-round caddy-firer really deserves two spots on this list, but there are a lot of temperamental rich kids to get to yet, so he’ll have to be satisfied with just one. During the first round of the 2015 Canadian Open, Allenby and his caddie disagreed about club selection on the par five, 13th hole. After Allenby ended up in a water hazard, his completely measured, adult response was to fire his caddie, Mick Middlemo, on the spot. A fan took Allenby’s bag for the remainder of the round. After finishing, Allenby told Middlemo that he “didn’t deserve to be caddying out there.” Wow.
10 Curtis Strange
On the 30th anniversary of his legendary 1985 Masters meltdown, Curtis Strange sat down with the New York Daily News and owned up to the lessons it taught him: Among them was apparently that in golf, one must sometimes be a jerk. “When I went to the 10th tee at Augusta in 1985, I had never felt pressure like that in my life. It’s different, it’s magnified, it’s ten-fold. I’m going, ‘Jesus Christ, what’s going on here?’... But you learn how to handle the pressure and do the best you can. You really have to be at that moment the most arrogant SOB on the planet.” At least Strange owns up to being a jerk sometimes, which is more than can be said for most on this list.
9 Patrick Reed
A hypothetical scenario that may require a bit of soul-searching: You find yourself in hot water after letting slip a homophobic and profanity-laden rant as part of a missed-putt tantrum. As part of your post-screw up soul-searching, you say to yourself, and the world, that you must seek council with a zen golf guru to help keep your head. Your idea of such a bodhisattva of by-the-book golf? Bubba Watson. This tidbit should say everything that needs to be said about notorious PGA Tour hothead Patrick Reed, who reached out to Watson for advice after melting down on the 10th hole of a tournament in China and saying under his breath but loudly enough for cameras to hear, “Nice f******* three-putt, you f****** f*****."
8 Ian Poulter
Ian Poulter, the English champion of the 2012 WGC-HSBC Champions is a special kind of jerk. He’s not the kind on whom all can agree. In fact, he delights and offends in equal measure with his prolific use of social media to brag about his good fortune. The most intense scrutiny is paid both by Poulter and his detractors to his conspicuously large collection of automobiles, prominently featuring the works of Ferrari. This tweet, is a pretty spot-on example of why he gets on peoples’ nerves. But in the end, there are far worse ways to be a jerk.
6 Rory McIlroy
Twenty years from now, when Rory McIlroy, golf’s latest golden child, will look back on the jerk move he pulled in 2012 and lament what might have been. Then he might flip through 2016’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and feel an even deeper regret. Engaged to the (incredibly attractive) tennis star that year, Rory decided that he wasn’t ready for marriage—and that the best way to inform his betrothed was with a 10-minute phone call, even though they had met in person earlier that day. Unfazed, Wozniacki told Golf.com, “I would like a taller guy so I can wear my heels,” effectively winning the breakup.
5 Vijay Singh
In the multi-sport deer-antler spray scandal of 2013, centered around baseball legend Alex Rodriguez, notorious golf jerk Vijay Singh was also implicated, but managed to avoid retribution simply by saying he didn’t know deer-antler spray was banned. Fans and commentators who might have otherwise given Singh the benefit of the doubt were quick to remember a decade earlier, when Singh’s blatantly sexist comments about Annika Sorenstam’s attempts to compete in the PGA Tour exposed the jerk hidden beneath the smiling denizen of Fiji, best known for being a tropical paradise.
4 Fuzzy Zoeller
In a sport with just one black superstar in its history, it’s remarkably difficult to have prejudices exposed in the PGA Tour—for one thing, pros are rarely called upon to interact with anything other than white faces. The only thing racist golfers have to do is keep their mouths shut and it’s unlikely anyone will ever find out. That’s why it was so shocking when Fuzzy Zoeller, by way of congratulating the first African-American champion in Masters history, Tiger Woods, expressed his hope that Tiger wouldn’t have “fried chicken next year [at the Masters banquet]...or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve.”
3 Sergio Garcia
When you feud with someone who just famously had his serial philandering exposed to the world via a golf club through the windshield, you have to put in a lot of work to be the jerk in that feud. A remarkable, even Sisyphean amount of work. But noted concentration enthusiast (his pre-backswing routine often involved a full 20 seconds of settling the club face) and major-less Tour pro Sergio Garcia managed to make the task of being a bigger jerk than Tiger Woods look monumentally easy. Amid a torrent of verbal kicks to the already down-for-the-count Woods, Garcia happened to be asked if his nemesis would be invited over for dinner during the upcoming U.S. Open. “We will have him round every night," came the response. "We will serve fried chicken."
Let's not forget, this is the same guy who missed his shot, which hit a fan in attendance, and then proceeded to berate that fan. Classy.
2 Rory Sabbatini
This spoiled South African was without question the most likely to whine and complain at a PGA Tour event—before Bubba Watson showed up to give him a run for his money. Sabbatini makes a habit of loudly berating fans for any noise during his backswing—which would be fine if many of these sounds didn’t seem to be phantoms. In 2011, he decided to verbally abuse a 16-year-old volunteer so badly for marking his errant shot with an empty soda can that the PGA demanded an official apology.
1 Bubba Watson
It’s one thing to be a golf jerk: to be entitled, abusive, petty, or unhinged can go along with the territory and sometimes it happens to the best golfers. What makes Bubba Watson truly repugnant is that he claims divine warrant for being a jerk—according to Bubba, his mere Christianity is enough to forgive offenses from treating his caddy like trash to becoming friends with Justin Bieber. By all accounts, he has never struck up any meaningful relationships with fellow players and his abuse of respected caddy Ted Scott led Golf Digest to satirize Bubba’s behavior: “He had to play with raindrops on his driver’s face. We all know that is Satan’s work, for surely the prince of darkness diverted the raindrops from all other players and caused them to settle only on Bubba’s sticks.”