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Golfer says comments about Woods 'misconstrued'

Fuzzy Zoeller

Retailing sponsor critical of remarks

April 21, 1997
Web posted at: 9:30 p.m. EDT

(CNN) -- Fuzzy Zoeller, one of golf's most colorful characters, is on the defensive due to some off-color remarks he made at last week's Masters golf tournament.

Speaking to reporters at the tournament, Zoeller referred to Tiger Woods as "that little boy" and urged him not to order fried chicken or collard greens for the Champions Dinner next year. A CNN camera crew recorded the comments, which aired Sunday on CNN's "Pro Golf Weekly" hosted by Jim Huber.

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On Monday Zoeller, the 1979 Masters champion, apologized. "My comments were not intended to be racially derogatory, and I apologize for the fact that they were misconstrued in that fashion," the 45-year-old golfer said.

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The 21-year-old Woods won the tournament, shooting a record 18 under par, becoming the first African American to win a major professional golf tournament. Woods' father is African-American and his mother is Asian-American.

With drink in hand, Zoeller made the remarks April 13 after finishing his final Masters round, a poor 78 that placed him in a tie for 34th in the final standings.

Zoeller's comments at the Masters were: "That little boy is driving well and he's putting well. He's doing everything it takes to win. So, you know what you guys do when he gets in here? You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not serve fried chicken next year. Got it?"

Then Zoeller smiled, snapped his fingers, and walked away. Then he turned and added, "or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve."

Sponsorship under review

Zoeller is noted on the tour as a good-natured free spirit, but others on the mostly-white professional golf tour lamented his indiscretion.

"I know Fuzzy, and it was obvious to me that he was attempting to be funny," number-one ranked golf pro Tom Lehman said. "He probably would have said the same thing to Tiger's face and they both would have yukked it up...[But] it wasn't the best timing, and it wasn't in good taste. It's not appropriate."

One of Zoeller's sponsors also expressed concern. Kmart officials Monday criticized the remarks of Zoeller, a spokesman for Kmart golfing products.

In a statement, the retailer stated that "comments recently made by Fuzzy Zoeller following Tiger Woods' Masters championship were inappropriate and offensive. Regardless of the context, they are contrary to Kmart's longstanding policies that ensure our words and deeds are without bias."

Kmart said it will review the matter.

Masters dinner tradition

Woods was unavailable for comment, and Zoeller said he hasn't spoken with him either, but planned to do so as soon as possible.

"I've been on the tour for 23 years and anybody who knows me knows that I am a jokester," Zoeller said. "It's too bad that something I said in jest was turned into something it's not. But I didn't mean anything by it and I'm sorry if I offend anybody. If Tiger is offended by it, I apologize to him, too. I have nothing but the utmost respect for Tiger as a person and an athlete."

Zoeller said the remarks were a reference to the Champions Dinner, in which the previous year's winner gets to select the menu. "When I hosted the dinner I served fast-food hamburgers," Zoeller said. "It had nothing to do with black, white, purple, yellow, green race. it had nothing to do with Tiger or his family or his golf game."


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