Sport Golf

Saturday 21 October 2017

Pomposity is par for course in honourable men's chosen field

Dion Fanning

I guess we can forget about golf as the sport for the honourable now. The preening self-regard of the game whenever a golfer declares he accidentally rested his club in the sand or brushed the ball by mistake and is now disqualifying himself from the Lithuanian Open has always been too much to bear.

The fact that these declarations often represent a classic example of the subjugated masses who are too cowed to stand up against totalitarian conformist rules is always overlooked.

At these moments, everyone will spring into action and talk about the nobility of the game, of the lessons golf provides in ethics and behaviour, especially in contrast with the behaviour of Carlos Tevez or, say, Carlos Tevez.

Well, we can stop all that now. Last week golf closed ranks after Steve Williams decided to racially abuse Tiger Woods. The game of honour, of integrity and ethics couldn't find a way to condemn Williams' comments. They hesitated and they stonewalled. Greg Norman cleared Williams and golf of any suggestion of racism and Williams then came out and said that worse things were said at the caddies' dinner.

They turned to one man to get them out of this hole. Tiger, it was decreed, should say something.

There was no need for Tiger Woods to say anything last week. This wasn't an incident where it was one man's word against another's. Williams had said these things and golf had to act. Instead it decided that Tiger had to act and if he didn't, well, then they could kick Tiger around again.

It may be regrettable that Tiger has never spoken out on racism in his career. Yet, perhaps he wouldn't know where to stop.

If Tiger was to call Williams out for racism, he might want to add that much of the reporting of him since his fall has been laced with something that sounded a lot like prejudice. The shrill self-righteous horror with which his spitting on the green was reported dripped with racist undertones.

Tiger was not needed to take a stand last week, but golf is tormented by its utter dependence on this man and his refusal to be as they want him to be.

Tiger said Steve Williams was not a racist but that doesn't mean the comments he made could go without punishment.

In the week golf made its excuses for Steve Williams they decided to come down hard on John Daly who was just doing what any normal person would do in the situation and fleeing. For a breach of what can now laughably be called golfing etiquette, there is talk that Daly won't be asked back to play in the Australian Open.

Golf is always ready to make a connection between the game played by the professionals and the game played by enthusiastic hackers. No other sport spends as much time linking what goes on at the highest level to the game played by hopeless amateurs.

So if we are making the link, if we are suggesting that golf teaches a man how to behave not only on the golf course but in life, then let's consider this: Sean FitzPatrick plays golf. In fact, Anglo Irish bank seemed to exist for two things and two things only: to give bad loans and to play golf. Anglo, you will remember, spent €400,000 on golf balls and golf umbrellas over a three-year period.

Undoubtedly there were top Anglo executives emerging from the trees at the 14th at Druids Glen or somewhere, calling themselves for an extra shot while they were in the woods and then authorising another €500m loan to a property developer who had provided a business plan on a cigarette packet while they walked to the green. I think we can say there was a disconnect between the ethics of golf and the ethics of some of its keenest practitioners there.

Yet they were among its devotees and as we go round the world we can see that between Fred Goodwin and Goldman Sachs, the world has been ruined by golf.

Goldman Sachs had to deal with a suit from female employees last year that claimed they were discriminated against because they were never invited on golf days.

No game puts the needs of middle-aged has-beens ahead of young players. If the middle-aged were given priority on football or rugby pitches ahead of youngsters people would consider it a terrible failure of administration. But this is tolerated at golf clubs.

This is before we remember the desperate sexual and racial discrimination that has taken place in golf clubs everywhere. Golf is a game as impure as all the rest. It's a game which encourages self-obsession and introspection.

It may not appeal to a certain type of egotist, a Frank Sinatra or a Charlie Haughey who hate the vulnerability of it, but it summons the narcissistic in all of us.

When people say it is a great way to relax, what they mean is that it is a great way to spend five hours thinking only about yourself.

Yes, you can learn about life on the golf course and in the golf club. You can learn that life is unfair and life favours the few and that life is about exclusion and hierarchy

Football has, for the most part, none of this pompous self-regard. With good reason it is consumed with self-loathing, yet English football has handled the racism allegations surrounding John Terry and Luis Suarez with a lot more sensitivity than golf handled Steve Williams. Williams, who admits making the comments, has less to worry about than these two men who deny the allegations.

Golf conceals its self-loathing with displays of grandiosity and great claims about its self-worth. Like so many of the men who used it as a bonding exercise, it turns out their claims were worthless.

dfanning@independent.ie

Sunday Indo Sport

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport