Thought for the Day
Knowledge is being aware of what you can do. Wisdom is knowing when not to do it
Not all pro golfers are nice guys
Many years ago I worked for a publishing company that also produced a football magazine and on one golf assignment the only photographer available was a man who usually worked for the soccer title. We went to St Mellion and interviewed a number of players and the photographer couldn’t get over how pleasant and likeable these guys were, and that we could just wander up as they finished a practice round and either get an interview there, or arrange one for later. He was also impressed at how thoughtful and considered were the replies to my questions.
The snapper went on to tell me that just a few days before he had been at Wembley for an FA Cup semi-final and the journalist with whom he worked was roundly abused, sworn at and treated with contempt by the players – among them Paul Gascoigne – that he tried to speak with. This, said the photographer, was pretty routine in his experience. On another occasion I spent time with a journalist who reported on Formula 1 and we swapped stories about the two biggest names in our respective sports – Nigel Mansell and Nick Faldo, and how they were, broadly, loved by fans yet viewed quite differently by people like us who had to try and interact with them.
I was reminded of this recently while watching a TV documentary on the Williams F1 team, when one of the interviewees, who was well placed to know, said that out of the car, Mansell was a complete arse, which is how I also viewed Nick Faldo when he wasn’t on the course.
It caused me to think again how lucky I am to work in golf because the difficulties I had with Faldo were far and away the exception rather than the rule, and possibly because of that, the few obnoxious golfers I had to deal with stand out even more vividly when compared to the majority. I also recognise that likes and dislikes are very personal and there may well be many journalists who found Nick to be affable and easy-going – not that I ever spoke to them.
Top of my own particular dislike list was Darren Clarke who, to me at least, is not the twinkly-eyed, ever smiling Irishman you see on TV. I wrote a book on the Ryder Cup and shortly before it was published the photographer whose pictures we used – a talented and immensely likeable man called Phil Sheldon – died far too young. I wanted to get the European team of the most recent Ryder Cup to autograph the book so that I could auction it, with the proceeds to be given to Phil’s widow. I was clearly wearing press accreditation, and in an area of restricted access, so when I approached him Darren would know that I wasn’t a punter wanting to increase the value of a book in order to sell it on eBay the next day (sadly, an increasingly common occurrence among autograph hunters).
Nevertheless he not only rebuffed my request, he used language that I can’t repeat here, and I tried to speak with him twice, at different venues, to explain what I was about – the message was the same both times.
Despite this, Darren’s subsequent victory in the Open of 2011 was special and memorable for all sorts of reasons but the most pleasing aspect for me came in the press centre, and subsequently, when Darren acknowledged that he has not always been the easiest man to interview or be obliged to deal with – I know one journalist who refused several commissions to interview Darren, sacrificing money as a result, because he considers the man too obnoxious to deal with.
But in the immediate aftermath of his Open victory he said: ‘I was, as a few of the scribes in here will attest to, a little bit more difficult to deal with in my early years, but I’ve mellowed some. Just a little bit.’ And then 24 hours later, he added: ‘I have to admit, I was a horrible prat, I wouldn’t speak to you guys [the press]. I was rude if I’d had a bad round and it wasn’t right.’
No, Darren, it wasn’t. But despite that history – and thank you, by the way, for being man enough to acknowledge your shortcomings – there wasn’t a British journalist who wasn’t rooting for you to win, in the same way we would root for Nick Faldo or Nigel Mansell, irrespective of personal perception.
Another pro, who I cannot name because I didn’t witness this incident myself, seriously discombobulated a pro-am partner and paid the price. An American journalist friend told me about two of his pals who paid several thousand dollars each at an auction to play with this particular golfer, who is a major winner, in the week of a US Tour event. When they reached the 16th, one of the amateurs made a hole-in-one and the pro laconically said ‘Good shot.’ The amateur sprinted across the tee, grabbed the pro by the throat and shouted: ‘Good shot, you bastard! I paid a shitload of money to be here today, you’ve ignored me and my pal for 16 bloody holes because you’re so self-obsessed and then you say “Good shot” when I hit the shot of my life. Get away from me!’
The pro quietly retreated to the clubhouse and the amateurs played the last two holes alone. No mention of the incident, as far as I’m aware, has ever been made by the pro or the Tour.
He was, in my experience, a rare exception to the general standard of courtesy and good manners, or at the very least, absence of ill-manners, shown by professional golfers around the world. Yes, sometimes their rather anodyne, media-trained responses are as dull as ditch-water and getting them to say what they really think can be like pulling teeth. But that professional blandness is preferable to the footballing alternative.
Quote of the Week
Dividing the swing into its parts is like dissecting a cat. You’ll have blood and guts and bones all over the place. But you won’t have a cat.