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In professional golf, with its physical demands, it’s surprising to find a number of both male and female golfers who smoke. Despite the common association of a healthy lifestyle for athletes, it remains a fairly ordinary practice today (whether on or off the course).
As a non-smoker, I hadn’t considered smoking within the golf community until a recent personal experience. I was playing a game with an old friend when he casually lit a cigarette after his tee shot on the third hole, a Par 5. Even though smoking wasn’t banned on the course, this prompted me to think more about its presence in golf.
DISCLAIMER: This article objectively examines smoking habits among some of the most-loved professional golfers on the PGA Tour. We are not advocating for smoking tobacco since it can have severe and detrimental impacts on your health.
Is Smoking Allowed on the PGA Tour?
Smoking tobacco on a golf course can be a ticklish subject. Golf courses showcase nature’s splendor, offering a clean, pristine backdrop for this beloved sport.
Many people argue that it is criminal to mar the beauty of a place such as a golf course with smoking. There are also other residual effects like the disposal of cigarette butts and chemicals in the tobacco.
Then there are others who represent that a vast, open space like a golf course presents the lowest opportunity for causing discomfort to others. Quite unlike an urban setting where one is constantly surrounded by other people. There is no better place to permit smokers to light up with the least discomfort to others. Smokers also claim that it helps them to calm down and focus, hence is a necessary part of their game.
What does the PGA rule book say about smoking?
The PGA does not appear to have any specific rules permitting or prohibiting smoking. They prefer to leave it to the rules of the courses where events are held.
Smoking rules on golf courses fall into one of the following categories:
- Those that completely ban smoking and use of tobacco products on the golf course.
- Those that provide designated areas for lighting up, including during a practice round.
- Those that do not expressly ban smoking or have a policy on smoking. It is expected that the rules prevalent in the jurisdiction where the club is situated will apply. This would mean ensuring that no discomfort is caused to others and no advantage is sought during a game.
Other rules of golf could include smoke and cigarettes as artificial objects on the golf course. Hence, judging the direction and intensity and direction of the wind based on the smoke blown by a smoker could be construed as cheating. Just like the use of a handkerchief as a surrogate wind sock is not permitted.
Professional Golfers Who Smoke
It’s no secret that some PGA golfers smoke, not just during practice rounds or at the driving range, but also during PGA tournaments. Some players are known to seize every chance they get to light up, almost as if they need to. Meanwhile, for others, it’s more of a sporadic indulgence.
Miguel Angel Jimenez
Miguel Angel Jimenez could well be the poster boy for the good life on the golf tour. He is close to 60 and has progressed from an early life of struggle to one built on the success of his game. Likewise, he has moved from smoking cigarettes to cigars. He has won 21 times on the European tour and has the most starts.
Responding to a question about the secret of his longevity, Jimenez stated, “There is no secret. Good food, good wine, good cigars, and some exercise!”
Darren Clarke, OBE, is a professional golfer from Northern Ireland, now active on the PGA Tour Champions.
He acquired a reputation for smoking cigars and cigarettes during rounds almost rivaling that of John Daly, a contemporary. He has 22 wins to his credit, including one major.
The comparison does not end there. Overweight, slouching, puffing on a cigarette during rounds, Clarke cuts an Average Joe figure on the course. And the crowds love that.
Clarke has experienced the ups and downs of life. His first wife Heather died in 2006 after a four year battle with breast cancer. He married former model Alison in 2012. Without going extreme, and altogether eliminating the things he loves, the golfer from Dungannon has made efforts to moderate his habit in the last few years. It is a relatively new Darren Clarke one sees these days on the golf course.
Four-time PGA tournament winner, Tim Herron now plays on the PGA Tour Champions. He started smoking before he started college at the University of New Mexico, where he played on the golf team.
He got a scare once when he realized that his coach John Fields had caught on to his bad habit. Sure enough, he was called to the office the following day. To his surprise, however, the coach told him that he was an adult and could do what he pleased. That, he says, led to an increase in his smoking.
Another problem erupted when the NCAA banned smoking tobacco at events. It was during the time he was in college. But young Herron was not to be denied. He developed a method of walking out of bounds while smoking and then coming back into play, occasionally to the ire of opposing players.
A claw putting grip photo of the 52-year-old American with a cigarette in hand has acquired cult status, showcasing his habit as well as his skill.
‘Common man’ Herron is liked by fans and fellow golfers. His quotes only seem to make him more likable: “I’m still searching for my dream workout. Maybe yoga or meditation. So far, everything I try still makes me sweat.”
John Daly, a winner of two majors, is often referred to as the free spirit of golf, preferring to live life on his own terms, instead of following the regimented lifestyle of top athletes. And, even with a recent knee replacement, he is going strong after almost 35 years on the tour. In his prime, he was the most consistent long driver in the game.
The 56-year-old brought an everyman charm to the sometimes-stuffy country club atmosphere of golf, often making a statement with his colorful clothing as much as his golf.
Smoking has been a big part of his persona, ever since he caught the habit, at the age of 19. He is known to do smoking tricks such as inhaling through his nose and exhaling through his mouth, on demand.
Add to it his consumption of Diet Cokes and Peanut M&Ms during a round and frequenting low-brow establishments such as McDonald’s and Hooters’, and you have an icon on your hands.
“I don’t drink water,” Daly states. “I hate water.”
The 52-year-old Dane has occasionally been pictured with a cigarette dangling from his lips. However, Thomas Bjorn perhaps falls in the ‘casual’ smoker category more than the obsessed or addicted one.
With 15 European tour wins, he is the most successful Danish golf player ever. He is also well known and well regarded for surfacing his battles with depression during his pro career, on more than one occasion. Mind Game, a book he has written along with Michael Calvin, is a sensitive portrayal of the psychological battles he fought as a golfer. It drew attention to an aspect of golf that is rarely openly voiced, but felt by many.
Interestingly, Bjorn calls golf the loneliest sport in the world.
Rocco Mediate is an American pro golfer who is perhaps best remembered for his historic duel with Tiger Woods at the US Open in 2008 where he eventually lost in a Monday playoff. The 60-year-old has six victories against his name on the PGA Tour.
He loves the occasional cigar, with Fuente Fuente OpusX, Padrón 1964 Anniversary, and Montecristo No. 4 being his preferred choices. His liking for cigars is well known. He is often followed by cigar-smoking groups during a tournament rooting for him. Like they did when he outdueled Colin Montgomerie for a win in the Senior PGA Championship at the Harbor Shores Golf Club in Michigan. Mediate himself was gnawing at a cigar for much of that round.
Mediate has also admitted to being a recovering alcoholic, who gave up drinking in October 2017. He would vodka out of a clear plastic bottle while playing golf, making it appear to be water.
Mediate also makes it a point to mention his bonding with other golfers who smoke, such as Miguel Angel Jimenez and Darren Clarke.
Angel Cabrera was the first Argentine to win a major. He won the 2007 US Open, where he withstood a challenge from Jim Furyk and Tiger Woods, followed by the 2009 Masters. During his heyday, Cabrera cut a distinctive figure on the course, with his duck-like gait and, well, the habit of smoking on almost every hole. He once famously joked, “Some players have psychologists, sportologists. I smoke.”
Cabrera is currently serving time in prison. He was convicted on two separate charges of assault against two different former girlfriends. He believes the time in prison may have helped him overcome his drinking and smoking habits.
43-year-old Marcel Siem could be one of the younger regular smokers on tour. He is more likely to be seen smoking on the days leading up to the tournament than when he is competing. Siem has 5 European tour victories in a total of 7 career titles.
In 2021, a cover of Cigar Aficionado was graced by Dustin Johnson. He may have a liking for it but Johnson is not a known regular smoker, perhaps conscious of the demands of being a top athlete. Disarmingly, he says the habit could grow on him as he ages.
The winner of two majors, the 2016 US Open and the 2020 Masters, Johnson finished in a tie for second at two others. He also has six wins in the World Gold Championship, with only Woods having won more.
It does seem that the incidence of active players smoking is falling. At least that of players seen smoking. Dustin Johnson is the only under 40 active player on the list. It could be greater health awareness. It could be knowing that they are role models and likely to be copied by millions of younger fans. It could also be their attractiveness to sponsors, with a wholesome, clean image being a preference for most.
Top PGA Tour Golfers Who Used to Smoke
No wonder then that there are many more examples of yesteryear players smoking. Along similar lines, on the senior tour, with a more relaxed tempo and lower stakes, one is likely to see more players lighting up.
Ben Hogan is widely recognized as one of the best golfers of all time. He has 9 major wins, and 71 professional victories, besides many awards and accolades,
He was also a regular, unapologetic smoker, like many others during his time. His cigarette of choice was the Chesterfield unfiltered.
Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer
Between Hogan, Palmer, and Nicklaus, you have a large proportion of golfing royalty of all time.
Though Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer did not get along, they did have two things in common; golfing skills and smoking. It is said about Palmer that he could smoke three cigarettes on a par three.
Jack Nicklaus was a regular smoker as well. He is believed to have cooled off to the idea of smoking on the golf course when he saw a highlights video of himself putting while smoking. He also bought into the idea of smoking not presenting the right image of an athlete. He stopped smoking, at least on the course.
Though not quite in the same league as a player like Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, and Arnold Palmer, Charlie Sifford had other firsts to his credit. When he joined the PGA tour in 1961, he was the first Black player to achieve the distinction. A cigar and Sifford were rarely separated, whether in practice rounds or golf tournaments. He was most comfortable with a cigar dangling from his lips.
Sifford won two tour titles followed by a Senior Tour Open Championship. It was his belief that his cigar prevented him from swaying off the ball. The golf ball had to be at the end of the burning cigar.
Do LPGA Golfers Smoke?
Of course, there are smokers on the LPGA Tour, though lower than on the Men’s Tour. Here are a few LPGA players who smoke cigarettes (or once did).
JoAnne Carner, now in her eighties, won 43 titles on the LPGA Tour. She was the second player to cross the million-dollar earning mark in the history of LPGA. She is one of the best ladies’ players ever, equally popular off and on the course because of her approachable personality. She was an avid life-long smoker, managing to kick the habit only a few years back.
Just for perspective, Carner was born in 1939. Jack Nicklaus in 1940.
Daniella Kang is also among the LPGA golfers who smoke cigarettes. The 6 time LPGA Tour winner keeps a packet of Dunhill cigarettes in her golf bag and lights one before every golf tournament. For her, it seems to be a way of calming herself as well as honoring the memory of her father. He caddied for her when she won back-to-back United States Women’s Amateur Championships in 2010 and 2011.
Kang is also known to light up a few cigarettes when she visits her father’s grave and leaves him one, too (since it was his favorite brand).
Right between the two is former Japanese pro golfer Akiko Fukushima. She won 24 times on the LPGA of Japan Tour and twice on the LPGA Tour. She was once pictured smoking on the course during a round with Michelle Wie.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Smoking Allowed on PGA Tour?
Smoking on the PGA Tour remains an individual’s choice. The PGA does not have any specific rules either permitting or prohibiting smoking. They prefer to leave it to the rules of the courses where events are held. Of course, it is to be assumed that in doing so, the smoker is not causing any discomfort to others.
Can PGA players smoke cigarettes?
The simple answer is yes. Cigars remain equally popular among pro golfers who smoke such as Miguel Angel Jimenez and Rocco Mediate.
Which PGA Tour players smoke on the tour’s golf courses?
Among players known for smoking on the course include John Daly, Tim Herron, Darren Clarke, Thomas Bjorn, Rocco Mediate, and Marcel Siem.
Can PGA players drink beer while playing?
Unlike smoking, which some smokers believe calms them down, no such claims exist for alcoholic beverages. Drinking alcohol while playing golf on the PGA Tour is uncommon.
Final Thoughts on Golfers Who Smoke
Smoking in golf probably mirrors the journey of smoking in life; with fewer people smoking in public compared to the past. As an amateur golfer, I have noticed that the probability of having a smoker in a random four ball is lower today than it was some thirty years back when I started. Today one could play several rounds over a few months before encountering one.
Even if PGA golfers are smoking, they are increasingly doing it away from the media glare, unlike in the past. The PGA Tour, in its effort to project a clean, wholesome image for the sport, also does its bit to avoid association with instances of players smoking.