If Henry Longhurst were still alive, perhaps the condemnation of natural human emotion would be less prudish.
“The most exquisitely satisfying act in the world of golf is that of throwing a club,” wrote the venerable golf scribe who was best known around here as the first British-accented voice of the Masters Tournament. “The full backswing, the delayed wrist action, the flowing follow-through, followed by that unique whirring sound, reminiscent only of a passing flock of starlings, are without parallel in sport.”
Without Longhurst to lead the way, the political correctness machine launched into lectures about Rory McIlroy’s little tantrum during Thursday’s first round of the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship.
“Visibly frustrated after tugging his second shot to the 12th green out of bounds, and blocking his provisional to the right, McIlroy’s uncharacteristic response was to send his long iron cartwheeling across the turf in the direction of his caddie, JP Fitzgerald,” wrote the Daily Mail under the headline “A touch of the Tigers as frustrated McIlroy loses his grip at Wentworth” that prattled on about what his mother must think.
“Tiger Woods might have done it a thousand times, but from this particular world No. 1 it was a surprising lapse from his customary role as the model pro.”
McIlroy is indeed a good lad, but since when does the ability to bottle up emotion serve as the “model” for athletic behavior? Golf might be considered a “gentleman’s game,” but when did it become so wrong for a gentleman or lady to offer a cathartic outburst once in awhile? It would shock me greatly if Thursday was the first time the boyish Rory ever launched a utensil in frustration.
Even Bobby Jones said “sometimes the game cannot be endured with a club in one’s hand.”
We have entered an era in which it has become unacceptable to display anger and frustration. It seems we are seeking a sports world of homogenous drones who all look and act in the same proper, sponsor-vetted way. If you get caught on video-tape drop-kicking your 6-iron on the 16th tee during the Masters, you’re going to be taken to the woodshed and forced to apologize.
Why? It wasn’t always like this. There was a time when athletes who wore emotions on their sleeves were revered as characters who added color to the otherwise staid landscape.
There was room in the hearts of bygone tennis fans to embrace “bad boys” like Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Ilie Nastase while at the same time admiring the graceful demeanors of Bjorn Borg and Arthur Ashe. Bet you fondly remember way more of their tantrums than the artful volleys and passing shots by the so-called “good guys.”
Golf also used to be sprinkled with all manner of characters who didn’t all look like they came off the David Leadbetter assembly line.
“Terrible-tempered, tempestuous Tommy (Thunder) Bolt” – as Dan Jenkins referred to him – was more regarded for his anger management issues than his 1958 U.S. Open victory in the course of a Hall of Fame career. Bolt could drop classic lines about his famous passion as smoothly as he could swing a club. It was Bolt who offered sound advice to “never break your driver and your putter in the same round.”
“He liked to claim that no sportswriter ever actually saw him break a golf club – but I did,” wrote fellow Hall of Famer Jenkins of an incident on the 15th hole at Colonial where this week’s PGA Tour event is taking place. “A mid-iron of some kind. One of those years in the early 1950s. He not only slung it against a fence, which snapped the shaft in half, but he picked up the two pieces, slammed them down again and kicked them.”
Bolt always said his reputation was embellished.
“Now, I threw a couple of clubs,” he once said. “I’m human, just like the other guys. But I threw them at the most opportune time, it seemed like. They always had the camera on me when I was throwing one.”
Tiger Woods can certainly attest to that. Nobody in the history of golf has had more shots shown on camera than Woods. Like Bolt all those years ago, Woods surely has a special fund set up to pay his weekly fines.
Why do we care so much? Do we really think our children aren’t going to hear that kind of stuff in the real world? We can teach them all we want about acting with proper manners in public, but sometimes our emotions get the best of us.
Golf is a game more suited than most in bringing out that inner anger. P.G. Wodehouse once wrote that he “enjoys that perfect peace, that peace beyond all understanding, which comes at its maximum only to the man who has given up golf.”
It’s a hard game, and some days when it’s not working or when the golf gods seem to be against you, you can “lose your grip” for a moment. So what?
The first PGA Tour event I ever attended was the Kemper Open at Congressional Country Club. The golfers weren’t yet familiar faces to me, but one figure was easily recognizable from 250 yards away. Craig Stadler missed his approach and reflexively launched the 3-wood up the fairway – following Bolt’s advice to “always throw a club ahead of you so that you don’t have to walk any extra distance to get it.” The fans around the green couldn’t have been more excited if he’d holed the shot.
“Why am I using a new putter?” Stadler once said. “Because the last one didn’t float too well.”
Golfers today need to stop apologizing to the PC police and start delivering their own one-liners. McIlroy has nothing to be ashamed of, except perhaps for his unpolished club-throwing form. He could get a few pointers from friend and peer Sergio Garcia or watch Reynolds Plantation teaching pro Charlie King’s video on three steps to properly throwing a golf club – first, take a running start; second, take at least a three-quarter backswing; third, release it early to avoid tendency to pull.
“These things happen,” King said. “Sometimes there’s a simmering kind of anger that’s probably just a little more classy. Sometimes you can’t hide it.”
So let’s give these guys a break. On those days when nothing’s going right and you’re not going to break 70, 80, 90 or 100 (as Henny Youngman said, “That’s a lot of clubs!”), you might need to rage against the PC machine with an act that is “exquisitely satisfying.”