McIlroy's calm maturity sets the standard
Published 16/06/2011 | 05:00
Images, images. They inform our opinions, shaping our views like diets re-arranging the human body. The spitting, snarling professional football players offer a role model appealing only to the residents of hell. Paid grotesque sums of money to live their foul, vulgar lives, they can afford to ignore the standards expected by most societies of their sporting heroes.
Yet there are other sides to this particular coin. And it is an exercise of much intrigue to study soccer's young counterparts in another sport. Like golf, for example.
On the eve of the 111th US Open's first day today, this tournament's defending champion, Graeme McDowell, spoke interestingly on this very topic.
It is McDowell's conviction that golf induces within young men a vital discipline, a need to conform and accept prevailing standards of behaviour, from an early age.
"There is no doubt that the game of golf definitely teaches us something that maybe perhaps some other sports don't. I think it's something we should be pretty proud of," he said.
"This game matures players from a very young age. It really teaches them a lot about how to handle themselves. You're out there...and the game teaches people, and especially kids, a lot about the great qualities of life and sportsmanship and humility.
"There's no doubt about it, the maturity level of some of these young players in the game right now is something we should be very proud of."
Within a few hours of McDowell's thought-provoking views, his compatriot, Rory McIlroy, just 22, sat in the same chair at the US Open media room and talked not just about golf and the excruciating pressures, its manic highs and depressive lows, but also about his recent trip to Haiti on behalf of UNICEF.
Of course, within the confines of these potential sporting traumas, we would do well to remember Rudyard Kipling's famous phrase about treating triumph and disaster as equal imposters. But can you expect any 22-year-old to embrace such a philosophy?
In the case of McIlroy, the answer is apparently yes, and he is not alone in golf -- calm, measured young South Africans like Charl Schwartzel, this year's Masters champion, come equally to mind in this debate.
The young Irishman discussed his own heartbreaking collapse at the Masters earlier this year in cool, analytical tones. "It was a great experience for me. I took the positives from it. It was hard, it was the first time I was in that situation (leading a Major on the final day).
"But you just move on, it's not the end of the world.
"You pick things from it that you think you could have done better, so when you get yourself into that position again, you try and put those things you want to do better into practice."
And he then moved on to discussing the poverty and desolation still confronted each day by the victims of the Haiti earthquake.
"Seeing what those people have to go through every day is definitely not a nice thing to see. And it's not just Haiti; there are countries all over the world that are having the same problems. It's just great to see so many people willing to help."
Somehow, you couldn't quite close your eyes and imagine Wayne Rooney uttering such mature thoughts, or putting the suffering of others before his own swollen wage packet or his wife's latest shopping trip.
But then, golf is a different game.
It raises the hopes and expectations of young men to the heights of a lofty crag, and so often brings them crashing to earth, the great prize snatched tantalisingly from their grasp. Sometimes, they are even denied for the rest of their career just one more chance at the ultimate reward.
Learning to handle those disappointments, acquiring the self control (as South Africa's British Open Champion Louis Oosthuizen did at an early age after some initial petulance) is not easy for young men.
But golf demands standards of behaviour beyond even the dreams of many other sports.
If you miss a short putt, if you screw up on an iron shot, you cannot hurl your club across the course in a juvenile tantrum. From your first serious engagement with this sport, standards of self control are taught, nay demanded.
It might be nice to imagine all sports, all young men and women, could behave in such a way.
But then, life is not like that.