Sport Golf

Thursday 14 December 2017

Twitter twits: McIlroy ranthighl ights stupidity of shooting from the fingertip

Suppose Twitter never existed, think of how incomplete our lives would be. Going on last week alone, Rory McIlroy would still be the nation's favourite, cuddly toy. Ger Loughnane's family would have been spared the perpetuation of a despicable hoax. The bitter criricism of a GAA referee probably wouldn't have gone beyond the walls of an angry dressing-room.

No doubt, Twitter has its purposes. So too, I imagine, has germ warfare. But would the world be a lesser place without it?

Before there was texting and email and MySpace and Bebo and Facebook and, now, Twitter, there was the telephone and conversation. People had a quaint appetite for talking to one another. Media made check calls. Death notices were reserved for the dead.

Maybe that comes across as a caveman's view to all those social media Einsteins compelled to document and share every hiccup of their exciting lives. But don't you think some people need to stop mistaking a keyboard for a gun-licence?


McIlroy's Thursday tweet certainly broke the seals on his image as something Irish golf stumbled upon in a gingerbread house. It may have been intended as a stout defence of his caddie, but it came across as an outburst of plain petulance.

Exactly one week before he won the US Open, I discussed McIlroy's Augusta meltdown with one of Fleet Street's most decorated sportswriters.

This man doubted Rory would ever win a Major for one rather simple reason. "He's just not a natural putter," he said.

I didn't buy it. If his putting stroke was sufficient to have him lead the Masters after 63 holes, it couldn't be that brittle could it? To me, McIlroy had simply over-heated. He'd needed calming on the 10th tee, a little ice-bath for his nerves.

And that's when I broached the subject of JP Fitzgerald. Why, I asked, wasn't he talking to this 21-year-old kid now melting under the gaze of the world?

The response was a snort of incredulity. McIlroy was, apparently, past saving by the 10th. An Uzi wouldn't have forced him back from the precipice. "But he was still leading the tournament," I countered. "If nothing else, it seemed to me he needed to be reminded of that."

By now, evidently, my hair was on fire and my trousers around my ankles. Because my journalist friend needed air. Turning away, he declared theatrically: "McIlroy would have sacked any caddie that did that. And, what's more, he'd have been right to!"

Now I didn't buy that either, but it struck me as a scenario that invited exploring. I mean how important is a caddie? If a pro golfer just pulled his own clubs behind him, what would be the cost on his card?

Many years ago, the late American writer, George Plimpton, did a wonderful piece on US Tour caddies, in which the professional golfers offered stridently conflicting views of a bagman's importance.

Doug Sanders, for example, believed a good caddie to be worth "maybe one shot a week", but that one shot -- he was adamant -- could make a difference.

"You don't want an intern operating on you; you want a doctor," said Sanders.

Claude Harmon, an Augusta champion, was less complimentary of the man on the bag. "My idea of a caddie is the one I won the Masters with," he explained to Plimpton. "Never said one word."

Gay Brewer, reputedly, used a different caddie every week on Tour and went to his grave unable to name the chap carrying his bag when he won the Masters in '67.

History tells us that Francis Ouimet won the 1913 US Open at Brookline with a 10-year-old in charge of his clubs. And the man carrying for Gene Sarazen when he won The Open in '32 was an "almost blind" 70-year-old.

Now we're not for a second comparing JP Fitzgerald's contribution to McIlroy's game as anything that might be replicated by a kid out of national school or a man with a white cane. The point is we have no way of really measuring his influence.

But, when Jay Townsend took issue with Rory's "shocking course management" last Thursday, I'm just not sure it was an instant compute that Fitzgerald was really the object of his criticism.

Yet Rory reacted to it like he might an insult in a pub. He lashed out. Worse, he opted to do it before the eyes of the world.

Why? Because Twitter is, it seems, an addiction. A relentless harvesting of banalities with the promise of occasional enlightenment.

And enlightenment, in this instance, came with a young professional golfer displaying a preciousness that had, hitherto, been unseen.

Some journalists now hang on the tweets of celebrities in the hope that they might happen to eavesdrop upon a story.

Others see it as a vehicle to broadcast their own speed off the mark for whatever they perceive as news. And to these people, just about everything constitutes a scoop.

But would you really be inclined to tweet the story of someone's passing even if the evidence was laid out on a slab before you? If so, why? Would some kind of emotional intelligence not kick in to tell you that, maybe, this wasn't the equivalent of someone pulling a hamstring?

Maybe Twitter itself isn't the problem so much as how it's used. But then I suppose that's a bit like saying firearms would be fine if there were no lunatics.

The problem isn't the gun. It's the fool with his finger on the trigger.

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