Sport Golf

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Such a pity Tiger hasn't led fight against racism in golf

Dermot Gilleece

Unsavoury as the Steve Williams outburst against Tiger Woods undoubtedly was, we hardly expected one insult to be followed by another. But that is what Greg Norman did to our intelligence by blandly declaring last weekend that he has never witnessed racism in golf, as in "no, not at all."

The ostrich approach ill becomes such a prominent figure who will captain the International team in the biennial Presidents Cup matches this week. Indeed given his vast experience of tournament golf, Norman might have been expected to encourage the removal of Williams from the Royal Melbourne scene by the caddie's current employer and International team member, Adam Scott. Perhaps the Shark is having a little memory lapse. So it may be appropriate to remind him of his third-place finish in the AT&T Pro-am in 1988 when magnificent Cypress Point was negotiated as one of the three courses in the event.

On his return to the tournament four years later, Norman finished 33rd, and instead of Cypress Point, he played Poppy Hills as one of the three selected venues. Meanwhile, he was tied 19th behind fellow countryman Wayne Grady in the 1990 PGA Championship in which racial hell broke loose at Shoal Creek.

That was when the discriminatory policy of the host venue caused the PGA Tour to decree that in future no event of theirs could be played at a club where membership discriminated against minorities. Memorably, Augusta National admitted its first black member a year later but Cypress Point declined, so depriving future AT&T audiences of spectacular images of their iconic, short 16th hole which straddles an elbow of the Pacific Ocean.

If those events somehow escaped Norman's attention, could the same be said of the 1997 US Masters? Has he forgotten how Fuzzy Zoeller referred to the newly-crowned champion, Woods, as "that little boy", while urging him not to order fried chicken or collard greens "or whatever the hell they serve" for the champions' dinner the following year? As with Williams, Zoeller's subsequent reaction was entirely predictable. "My comments were not intended to be racially derogatory," he said.

During a visit to Durban CC for the 2005 South African Open, I was reminded of it as the scene of the most appalling racial slight, decades previously. Having beaten Gary Player to win a second Natal Open title in his native city, Sewsunker 'Papwa' Sewgolum was made to stand in the rain for the presentation ceremony outside the clubhouse, because being categorised as coloured, he couldn't be permitted inside.

I had another deeply disturbing experience during the week of the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine. A stranger to celebrity, 92-year-old William Powell (who has since died) sat in a leather armchair on the stage of the Pantages Theatre in downtown Minneapolis, where he was presented with the Distinguished Service Award by the PGA of America.

Beside him was his daughter, Renee, who told me about Clearview, America's only course to have been designed, built and owned by a black man, in 1946. "They called it the Nigger Nine," she said. "Indeed some of them still do, despite the fact that we extended to 18 holes in 1978."

It is hard to believe that for over 40 years, the same PGA of America which honoured Powell had written into its constitution by-laws banning blacks from tournament golf, which weren't removed until 1961.

I also remember the shock at reading in US newspapers about the so-called 'Jack Nicklaus syndrome'. The Bear was accused of a racist attitude shared by many white liberals after expressing the view in 1994 that so few African-American were playing golf at the highest level because blacks have different muscles that react in different ways.

Within a month of these views, Woods became the first black winner of the US Amateur title. Yet the American Humanist Association claimed: "What Nicklaus and so many other whites fail to comprehend is that a lack of appropriate muscle co-ordination among African-Americans for playing golf -- if this is really a factor -- is itself the result of racism."

So it is not difficult to see the need for an advocate, a strong voice among black golfers. One can't help wondering the response Norman would have got last weekend had tournament golf got a black advocate with the moral strength of Arthur Ashe, based on his celebrity in professional tennis. Ashe was only 49 when he died in 1993 from complications associated with AIDS, which he contracted through a blood transfusion during heart surgery. On being asked what was the heaviest burden he had to bear, the only black man to win a Wimbledon singles title replied: "You're not going to believe this, but being black is the greatest burden I've had to bear."

Explaining the interesting use of the words "being black" rather than racism, Damion Thomas of the University of Maryland later suggested: "With Ashe, it was not racism but representation that was the problem -- the idea, particularly pronounced in the 1960s, that there is an essential notion of how black people are . . . Throughout his life, Ashe was increasingly challenged by the idea that he had a responsibility to the black community, and he found himself responding to that initiative."

Sadly, the obvious spokesman for black golfers these days revealed a grave lack of social skills in choosing Williams as a friend. Which meant that a racist rant received its only meaningful response from the media.

Sunday Indo Sport

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport