Tiger Woods and 8 Most Polarizing Golfers of All Time

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistAugust 17, 2012

Tiger Woods and 8 Most Polarizing Golfers of All Time

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    Tiger Woods was seen as a breath of fresh air when he joined the PGA Tour after his stellar career as an amateur and college golfer.

    Woods was well known to all golf fans and was quite celebrated before turning pro. The bright lights were on him in 1996 when he started earning money on the pro tour.

    As he became a phenom, Woods became a polarizing figure. Would he mount an assault on Jack Nicklaus' career record of 18 major tournaments won?

    As he started to answer that question in the affirmative by piling up win after win, Woods became controversial.

    He brought a lot of fans to the game, but there were many who looked at him as an outsider. Closet racists did not want to see Woods challenge many of the game's most notable records.

    As the years went by, Woods asserted his greatness. However, his image was shattered in 2009 when his marriage infidelities surfaced (source: Time Magazine). It cost him his marriage and he became one of the most controversial athletes of all time.

    While Woods is probably the most polarizing golfer, there have been a number of others throughout the history of the game.

    Some of the names may be surprising.

Jack Nicklaus

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    Jack Nicklaus is widely recognized as one of the top players in the history of the game.

    If professional golf had a Mt. Rushmore, the foursome would likely include Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Tiger Woods.

    While he is a beloved figure and has been since the 1970s, there was a time when Nicklaus was jeered in the 1960s.

    As he was asserting himself, he had to battle the popular and gifted Arnold Palmer for the top spot in the game. Palmer was magnetic and handsome; Nicklaus seemed awkward and was overweight.

    He was given the derisive nickname of "Fat Jack" and was not a crowd favorite (source: Standard-Examiner).

    If it bothered him, he never let it show. It certainly didn't derail him.

    Nicklaus would become one of the greatest golfers in history and he developed a strong friendship with Palmer.

Phil Mickelson

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    Phil Mickelson has largely been seen as the No. 2 player in the world of professional golf for years.

    He has pushed and challenged Tiger Woods, and that has made him a polarizing figure in golf (source: Associated Press through Yahoo.com).

    Golf fans either love Mickelson and his famous flop shot or they hate him for having the temerity to challenge Woods.

    Woods' own issues have cost him fans and that may have benefited Mickelson, but "Lefty" still has an emotional impact on golf fans.

John Daly

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    John Daly is one of the biggest hitters to ever play on the tour.

    He was viewed as a gifted golfer who could become one of the game's best players if he could harness his talent.

    Daly has never been able to do that. He has had off-the-course problems involving alcohol, gambling and women, and all of those issues appear to have impacted his golf game (source: BBC.com).

    He has flashed his talent in winning two majors—the PGA and the British Open—but more times than not his career has been noted for his failures and his flame-outs.

    Daly has become synonymous with wasted potential.

Ben Hogan

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    Ben Hogan is one of the greatest golfers in the history of the game.

    His legend is even greater because he was almost killed in a 1949 accident when his car crashed head-on into a Greyhound bus (source: ESPN.com).

    Hogan survived, somehow mounted a tortured comeback and became an elite player who dominated the competition.

    But Hogan didn't get to the top by being a nice guy. He was single-minded and intimidating. He didn't regularly extend camaraderie and friendship to his competitors. When a young Arnold Palmer hit the tour in the late 1950s, Hogan was cold to him, and that didn't help his image (source: Golf.com).

Greg Norman

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    Greg Norman had a fantastic career if you don't count his performance in major tournaments, which is a lot like saying the Vancouver Canucks are a great hockey franchise if you don't count their performance in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

    One of Norman's worst defeats came in the 1986 Masters, when he appeared poised to win but had the title stolen from him after Larry Mize holed out an incredible chip shot.

    Norman seemed to handle it well, but fellow Australian golfer Jack Newton said the defeat changed Norman and made him selfish.  "I think he needs a few mates in his life," Newton said in 2008 (source: Golf.com). "I feel that he's going to end up a lonely man with no friends."

Jan Stephenson

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    Jan Stephenson made a splash on the LPGA tour during the 1970s because she was sexy and beautiful in addition to being a solid golfer.

    She was not afraid to use her sex appeal to get attention, but that's not what made her polarizing.

    Well after her career was over, she gave an interview to Golf Magazine in which she said the presence of Asian players on the LPGA was hurting women's golf. "This is probably going to get me in trouble, but the Asians are killing our tour," Stephenson said to the magazine.

Rory Sabbatini

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    Confidence is a big part of any golfer's success, and Rory Sabbatini has it in spades.

    There's nothing wrong with that. However, Sabbatini's self-confidence borders on arrogance, and he has been rubbing his fellow pros the wrong way with his self-centered ways.

    Sabbatini has been known for leaving playing partners who play too slowly and even pointed out Tiger Woods' vulnerabilities in 2007 when he thought his swing was not in peak form (source: Golf.com).

Sergio Garcia

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    Garcia looked like a genuine hero when he challenged to win the 1999 PGA Championship and could be seen running down the fairway with fervor when he thought he had a chance to hole out a fairway shot. His ready smile also won him a lot of fans.

    However, his self-centered play turned off a lot of his competitors. Garcia was a member of Europe's 2002 Ryder Cup-winning team and did not make many friends because of his childish behavior.

    Garcia is known for his slow play and his waggling of the club as he prepares to swing. New York golf fans ridiculed him for this when he played at Bethpage Black in the 2002 U.S. Open. Garcia responded to them by giving them the finger (source: Golf.com).

    He later apologized, but he could not undo what he had done.