A lot of stuff happened at the 1996 Masters, most of which long since has vaporized in the hazy air over Memory Lane. What people do remember is that Greg Norman blew a six-stroke lead and lost to Nick Faldo. The men played together in Sunday’s final pairing, and what was supposed to become Norman’s signature moment instead disintegrated into his ghastliest collapse.
When it was over, the Shark and Sir Nick embraced on the 18th green. Two titans would lay their emotions fully bare, and for crying out loud, golf had itself a bro-hug for the ages.
Such physical interaction is now commonplace in today’s world. Whether it’s a greeting between pals, a celebration of accomplishment or dragging up some dude who’s down in the dumps, we’ve come to taking this notion of male bonding quite literally.
Whatever happened to the handshake?
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Phil Mickelson (right) and Rickie Fowler show some bro-hug esprit de corps during the 2016 Ryder Cup.
If I were commissioner for a day, I would outlaw the bro-hug on the PGA Tour. It’s inappropriate, unsanitary and, most of all, a slap in the face to the game’s sacred traditions. It’s as if the millennials want to change everything, even the perfunctory exchange between golfers at the end of a round. Go have a drink, fellas. Toast your fine day together and drive home safely, but please, let’s keep that touch-feely stuff to an absolute minimum.
When Tiger Woods came to pieces in caddie Steve Williams’ arms after winning the 2006 British Open, he was granted a special exemption: his father had died just two months earlier. When Jordan Spieth holed that bunker shot in sudden death to win the 2017 Travelers Championship, he hurled his sand wedge as if it were a boomerang, then launched into a joyous chest bump with caddie Michael Greller.
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A handshake apparently wasn’t enough, so Rory McIlroy (right) congratulates winner Dustin Johnson in the millennial way during the 2017 WGC Mexico Championship.
Ah, the flying bro-hug. Actually, Spieth performed a half-twist in midair, creating buttocks-to-belly contact that qualifies as original material. Given the timing of the celebration, plus the fact that Spieth had to scale a small hill to meet Greller, and you’ve got a display of affection that rises above and beyond any potential ban.
Most bro-hugs are far less demonstrative. One arm gently on another man’s shoulder, head slightly cocked to avoid anything too frisky, with perhaps a pat or two on the guy’s back if they’ve known each other forever. The problem with men hugging on the golf course relates largely to common sense.
It’s 93 degrees outside, you’ve been out there for four or five hours, and everyone in the foursome is just dying for a cold beer and a dry shirt. It flies directly in the face of logic to embrace some sweaty Eddie who is 25 pounds overweight and 23 strokes over par.
Not long after he turned pro, Sergio Garcia repopularized the practice of removing his hat for the post-round handshake. It was an old-school gesture of courtesy by the same player who would spit into the cup after missing a par putt on the 13th hole at Doral in 2007.
“It did go into the middle, so it wasn’t going to affect anyone else,” said Garcia, referring to his saliva landing in the geographic center of the hole, where nobody puts his fingers. Garcia’s aim isn’t always so sharp, but his doffing of the cap was spot-on. To this day, touring pros continue to remove their headwear on the 18th green, which had been routine procedure in previous generations but somehow got lost in the 1970s and ’80s.
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A major-championship comes with no guarantee of a world-class bro-hug as Henrik Stenson (right) and caddie Gareth Lord seek the proper balance after winning the 2016 British Open.
When Faldo hugged Norman, the Shark still was wearing that black, cowboy-style lid that was such a crucial component to his sartorial statement for much of his career. Poor manners? Perhaps Norman was caught off-guard by a foe who had pummeled him by 11 strokes in a single afternoon.
“If I had blown a six-shot lead at the major I wanted to win more than any other, I’m not sure how I would’ve gotten over it, so, yeah, I had sympathy for him,” Faldo would say years later. “I don’t think I’d [ever] felt that way before about someone I’d beaten.”
All of which suggests that a bro-hug can be delivered with dubious intentions. Why is he wrapping his arms around me? Am I really one of his closest friends, or is he just happy because he’s a multimillionaire and I’m washing dishes at a diner?
Anyone who knows Norman is keen to the idea that he doesn’t want anybody feeling sorry for him. In his manly world, sympathy is a four-letter word. Kind of like loss.
So, no bro-hugs for me, thank you. Regardless of whether I finish double-double or make a 30-footer to shoot 73, I’ll take any handshake you’ve got. The conventional style still works, but so does the soul-brother clench or the neo-modern finger lock. Just don’t come at me with a weak paw. I’d almost rather play 18 holes with sweaty Eddie.
John Hawkins is a longtime sportswriter who spent 14 years covering the PGA Tour for Golf World magazine. From 2007 to 2011, he was a regular on Golf Channel’s “Grey Goose 19th Hole.” Email: firstname.lastname@example.org