Sport Golf

Monday 20 November 2017

Four-letter word leaves press corps cursing their luck

The Couch

Rory McIlroy with Caroline Wozniacki
Rory McIlroy with Caroline Wozniacki

Tommy Conlon

This can't be an easy time for Rory and Caroline but, truth be told, my sympathies are with the sportswriters who have to cover their break-up in all its harrowing detail.

I mean, we didn't sign up for this sort of messy relationship talk when we went into this business. In fact, it was precisely to avoid it that brought us here in the first place: we wouldn't have to discuss our feelings, or anyone else's feelings either. We would find sanctuary in a world where scary things like romance and broken hearts don't exist.

Oh, we can do romance and broken hearts alright, but only in a context where it doesn't really threaten our emotional insecurities. We can substitute sporting romance for the real thing. We can wax lyrical about the plucky underdogs finally winning the cup against all odds. We can empathise in laboured prose with the team that has its heart broken again for the umpteenth time.

Yes, we can show our tender side here alright, maybe even shed a tear or two, knowing that we are still in our safe place, our psychic comfort zone. We can pretend we are in touch with our feelings when recording the great emotional outpouring of delirious players and supporters, or the agony of their defeat once more.

In reality, we just come across as sentimental old fools. But listen, we're just doing our best to cope with our arrested development, our pitiful emotional illiteracy.

Unable to deal with the everyday horrors of the boy-meets-girl narrative, we take refuge in the world of sport where it's boy-meets-boy on the football field, in the ring, on the track.

Boy-meets-girl in civilian life raises the terrifying prospect of love, which the propaganda tells us is a many-splendored thing. (But where's the proof – do they have any stats on that?) Boy-meets-boy in sporting life is a simulation of conflict, aggression – Orwell's war minus the shooting. So naturally, as male sportswriters, we gravitate towards the latter not the former.

Of course, rumour has it that the love thing can also lead to conflict, aggression, apparently even downright hatred at times. While the sport thing can lead to happiness, harmony and strong emotional bonds among people who have shared a lot of good times together.

But let's not go there. This is getting far too complicated, and more than a tad uncomfortable. We just want the vicarious emotion of sport: a simple life of games and players and scores and stats and winners and losers.

But then along come Rory and Caroline to crash our gated community with their tears and their sadness and their flesh-and-blood dramas of the human heart. In all fairness, it is rather quite thoughtless of them.

We are pretty sure that the assembled golf writers at the PGA Championship on Wednesday just wanted to ask McIlroy about his chances this week and all the permutations therein. If they were going to broach any relationship difficulties, it would strictly concern his troubled history with the West Course at Wentworth.

But instead they found themselves in a press tent watching this sporting god turn into, of all things, a human being. They had to sit there squirming in their seats as he opened up about the love story that went wrong. He even talked about the wedding invitations, issued last weekend, that seemingly triggered his hasty retreat from the appalling vista of the marital aisle.

It was surely too much information for the blushing press corps. One would not be surprised to hear that some of them needed counselling afterwards. Or, the more traditional remedy, a stiff drink.

Perhaps they ruefully reflected that a lifetime covering the fairways hadn't prepared them for this sort of modern confessional intimacy. In the old days it could've been easily boxed off under the general heading of 'woman trouble'. But now here was one of their own, a product of the same culture, talking about his failed relationship, with a strange and challenging candour. Yikes! Barman, make that a double, no ice.

But they had been warned, because Rory and Caroline had been telling the world for the previous two years of their mutual infatuation. And in truth there was something rather sweet and charming about their guileless public displays of affection. They were naive and they were in . . . No, sorry, just can't bring myself to utter the dreaded L word here.

Anyway, if all of this weren't bad enough, the scribes then had to listen to Sergio Garcia talking about his past relationships, and with equally disconcerting openness too.

He had split from Martina Hingis, the tennis star, so that wasn't too bad, he revealed. But when Greg Norman's daughter, Morgan-Leigh, "left" him, it took him a long time to get over it. Grand, Sergio, thanks for sharing; now how's your short game at the moment?

It was left to Pádraig Harrington to restore some equilibrium after all this tactless talk and troubling emotion. It was obviously a shock for the couple, he ventured. "But who am I (to comment). I'm not a marriage counsellor. I'm no expert on this sort of stuff but it's part of human life."

But that's the problem for us sportswriters: we'd sooner be hit by a flying golf ball than have to deal with "this sort of stuff". A sportsman talking about love and the like? Run for cover. Fore!

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