McIlroy's club toss not all negative

DORAL, Fla. -- Golf is the ultimate four-letter word. There might not be a game that infuriates, frustrates, irritates and aggravates quite like it. And those emotions might be on display over the course of just a single hole.

Those of us who attempt to flail away at a golf ball can relate to the scene that played out at Doral on Friday afternoon with Rory McIlroy, who heaved his 3-iron into the pond off the eighth fairway, shocking fish and spectators alike.

We don't like to see such anger on display in a public setting like that, and certainly what McIlroy did at Trump National Doral during the second round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship is not being condoned here.

McIlroy himself expressed regret over kids who might have been watching -- and noted how expensive it can be to let a club fly.

But it happens. All the time. Even in professional golf.

"I've done my fair share of those kind of things over the years, so I'm not going to judge anyone on anything," said Henrik Stenson, who played with McIlroy and even joked with him after seeing the club sail into the water.

"I was the first one to make a comment," he said. "Takes one to know one. It was a good release, yes. He's a strong fellow for not the tallest guy, and he had good speed on that one, too.

"You know. ... It gets to all of us."

And that's why McIlroy is not going to take a beating here. It was wrong, but not egregious, and McIlroy himself admitted it was not his "proudest moment."

Fair enough. And yet, you know if that had been Tiger Woods, the indignation would have blown up the Internet.

Woods has had his share of anger issues, too, notably dropping profanities in earshot of television microphones. The feeling here has always been that while you would hope Woods -- or others -- would not let loose with those words, it is understandable given the circumstances.

Golf is a high-pressure game, with spectators right on top of the action. For players such as Woods and McIlroy, television cameras are ever present. Should they conceal their emotions better? Perhaps, but that is easy for us to say, calmly standing by.

Let's not be naïve. Have you ever heard the language uttered on an NFL field, an NBA court, a baseball diamond? It's part of sports, although, in those endeavors, the fans are often too far away from the action to hear.

And yet, we get so offended by it, as if these words are never spoken, anger never shown.

When it comes to throwing a golf club, or breaking it or scolding it -- as some players have done -- it is part of what has gone on for years.

"Why am I using a new putter?" Craig Stadler once said. "Because the last one didn't float too well."

Remember Woods drop-kicking his 6-iron on the 16th tee at the Masters a few years ago? That elicited all manner of condemnations, and yet it hurts no one but him -- especially if the emotions cannot be controlled.

The late Tommy Bolt was probably more famous for throwing clubs -- and tantrums -- than he was for his own fine golf swing. The 1958 U.S. Open champion used to say that he simply got caught by the cameras at the worst times. A photo of him throwing a club into a lake at the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills is legendary.

"It hurt me then but it helped me later on," Bolt, who made it into the World Golf Hall of Fame, said in a 2001 interview. "Everybody knows who I am. People respect that I had guts enough to release my emotions. I had guts enough to toss a club now and then.

"Any golfer who has never thrown a club is not serious about the game. That's all there is to it."

Stenson tried to make light of McIlroy's helicopter toss of some 50 yards by explaining that the club simply slipped out of his hands.

"It's hot out there," he said, tongue firmly in cheek. "We are sweating a lot. Obviously, that practice swing didn't work out and it just kind of ended up in the water. It's a big issue that we don't have enough baby powder out there."

Said Bubba Watson, also known to lose his temper a time or two: "I thought it was a practice swing and the grip was wet."

In Watson's case, venting anger has often been the source of his downfall. And when that happens, it's never a good thing, which is why Watson has been criticized.

Woods, undoubtedly, would prefer the world not see his outbursts, but when he's been at his best, he has funneled that energy into something positive, turned it around.

For McIlroy's part, he did that Friday. He bogeyed the eighth hole but then played the last 10 holes in 2 under par.

"When you're struggling, you need something to just give you a spark," he said. "I'm not saying that was it, but it could have been. Played a little better on the back nine, but still just not as comfortable with my game as I'd like."

Many won't be comfortable with McIlroy hurling a club into the water, and chances are you won't see that type of action from him anytime soon. But if it happens? Chalk it up to an enormously maddening game, one that has confounded its participants forever.