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Sunday, 4 August 2013

John Daly, Tiger Woods and Golf's Sporting Heritage

There can be no denying that John Daly has brought the profession of golf into disrepute. Repeatedly so. He has blotted his copybook, let the side down, embarrassed his fellow professionals by making a frightful ass of himself and so on.

He has scrutinized his ways, however, and in the areas where he found them to be defective, he has mended them. The manner in which he has rehabilitated himself from the depths of dipsomania is commendable and deserving of continued encouragement.

But there is a fault line in human nature that emits gusts of noxious vapors that curdle the milk of kindness and forgiveness. Only people of impeccable virtue are afflicted by this poison, causing them--having given a dog a bad name--to pursue the wretched cur to the end of his days, baying for the noose.

A limited amount of sanctimonious tut-tutting is just about bearable from the self-appointed guardians of our moral standards, but they always overdo it. In particular they overdid it during golf's silly season, when we had some spurious and incomprehensible "world championship" every week for three months.

Daly played in a couple of those advertising stunts at the end of 1995, and he was something like 30 over par for six rounds of perfunctory golf. Letters to editors for favor of publication poured into newspaper and golf magazine offices, most of them oozing with venom. Daly was raked for bringing the profession into disrepute and also, overtly or by inference, betraying the game's heritage of royal and ancient and honorable and sporting behavior.

On closer inspection that heritage turns out to consist largely of drunken orgies and spectators deliberately kicking balls into gorse bushes to improve their chances of winning a bet. A most illustrious figure made a pact with a witch who transformed herself into a golf ball for him and flew unerringly toward his chosen targets.

An even more illustrious character prematurely celebrated victory over lunch in the inaugural U.S.Amateur, was beaten into second place in the afternoon, and then successfully demanded that the competition be declared void on the grounds that he hadn't won it. Some heritage.

These days golf is much more vigilant in enforcing the rules and monitoring standards of deportment and behavior, which is just as well since a lapse into the unsporting ethic that is increasingly infecting other popular sports would leave us without a game to play. It is impossible for an angry man or a dishonest man to play golf properly, although some still try it on. One competitor in a recent British Open was disqualified, and subsequently banned from professional golf for 45 years. When the referee was asked by how much the player had been moving his marker on the green he answered that it would have to be measured in fractions of a mile rather than fractions of a foot.

A Ryder Cup captain ordered his team not to help look for American balls in the rough, and when the players protested he sheepishly sought to justify his unsporting command by saying he was afraid of penalties for moving an opponent's ball. There is, of course, no penalty if you accidentally move an opponent's ball during a search.

The knowledge that your behavior on the course is liable to be relayed to the TV screens in 20 million homes, including the one watched by your wife and children, is undoubtedly a restraining influence on today's players.

Some of the game's more colorful characters simply could not have played tournament golf in today's conditions. There was one who released his internal pressures of frustration by head-butting trees, kicking himself on the shins and, on one occasion, knocking himself out with a self-inflicted left hook.

I had planned to offer a substantial cash reward from my personal fortune for the first reader to submit an all-correct list identifying the heroes of the above incidents. To my deep disappointment it has been officially deemed that any such competition would jeopardize the amateur status of everyone involved. That would never do.

Please note that Daly has never done anything as reprehensible as these examples. For all I know he may have grown a beard at some time, but that is no longer among the offenses officially designated by the PGA Tour as bringing the profession into disrepute.

We can all try to protect the game by doing our best to play by the spirit and letter of the law. Let our example rather than verbal outbursts of indignant censure show the malefactors the error of their ways. John Daly is trying his hardest. I earnestly suggest that we all get off his case and leave him to find his own salvation.

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