Monday 18 December 2017

'Family' unites to pay respect to fallen caddie

Padraig Harrington and his wife Caroline Harrington attend last night's European Tour Players' Awards in the Sofitel London Heathrow Hotel
Padraig Harrington and his wife Caroline Harrington attend last night's European Tour Players' Awards in the Sofitel London Heathrow Hotel

Karl MacGinty

ON the surface, nothing seems different at Wentworth this week.

As ever, the range and practice green at the European Tour's showpiece BMW PGA Championship heaved with players, caddies, coaches, agents, equipment company reps, all going through the usual motions under the gaze of teeming crowds.

Across in the media centre, defending champion Matteo Manassero, recent Sawgrass sensation Martin Kaymer and then Masters runner-up Jonas Blixt one by one underwent interrogation in the interview room.

Every few minutes a group of Europe's finest embarked from the first tee in front of the palatial clubhouse, just yards from the statue of Bernard Gallacher, the former Ryder Cup captain who gave long and distinguished service to Wentworth as their professional.

Beneath the surface however, the European Tour is still coming to terms with the tragic death of a member of the 'family', caddie Iain MacGregor (52) on the ninth fairway during last Sunday week's final round of the Madeira Islands Open.

SORROW

The regrettable decision to resume play and complete the tournament that evening stirred anger as well as sorrow among the universally popular Zimbabwean's fellow caddies, threatening the illusion of a 'family' on tour.

In an emotionally charged meeting with the caddies committee at last week's Spanish Open, Tour chief executive George O'Grady apologised for "hurt and upset" caused by the tragic events at Santo da Serra and answered 10 searching questions put by MacGregor's brothers-in-arms.

All sides – O'Grady, Players Tournament Committee chairman Thomas Bjorn and the caddies – emerged from that meeting united in their determination learn from the deeply painful lessons learned in Madeira.

The all-pervading desire at Wentworth this week is to ensure MacGregor did not die in vain.

They still grieve. Last night at the Cedar Tree pub in Bagshot, a favourite watering hole of MacGregor's, formerly known as The Fighting Cocks, the caddies raised a glass or two in his honour.

Tomorrow has been officially designated 'Black for Mac' day at Wentworth when all participants will wear black as a mark of respect to MacGregor, as his funeral takes place in Madeira.

Bjorn yesterday stressed the importance of providing a comprehensive new health service for players and caddies, with regular tests for those who wish to avail of them.

Dubliner Gerry Byrne, chairman of the European Tour Caddies, spoke of the urgent necessity to ensure basic medical facilities like an ambulance or a defibrillator (neither of which were on site at Santo da Serra when MacGregor collapsed) are provided at tournaments "for evermore".

Byrne also proposed introducing a complete industry standard for caddies requiring them to achieve certain qualifications to work on Tour and undergo fitness and health checks.

"I sent a list of proposed industry standards to the Tour about two months ago," he explained.

"It's something I'm passionate about. I was thinking of 2016 when we get to the Olympics because the IOC aren't going to let anybody step on the tee and announce 'I am a caddie'.

Byrne, who attended last week's meeting with six committee members, pointed out to the chief executive that "the European Tour are always talking about 'us' as a family", adding: "are we really part of that family?"

"I won't say it was an angry meeting," he added.

"It was emotionally charged. I broke down in the middle of it and, to be fair to George, I was impressed by his humility.

TROUBLED

"You could see he was very troubled by the whole event. He definitely reassured us that caddies are very much a part of the future of the European Tour and are very much appreciated."

O'Grady was not available for comment yesterday.

The irony at Wentworth this week is that Gallacher's statue stands over every tee shot at the first.

The Scot, saved by CPR after suffering cardiac arrest at a dinner in Aberdeen last summer, has fostered a programme with the PGA of Great Britain and Ireland to provide defibrillators at every golf club in these islands.

Irish Independent

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