Slow play, backstopping, Sergio and Bryson’s fits of pique, rules confusion, governing bodies falling out with players on social media, that whole ‘Matt Kuchar/El Tucan’ stramash, gimmes not given – golf has endured a rather bruising start to 2019.
All of these black eyes, it should be noted, have been self-inflicted. There’s nothing about any of these incidents that couldn’t have been avoided, and that’s hugely frustrating.
Even more so are the widespread implications of this catalogue of self-harm. People who don’t know better observe these events from afar and either form infuriatingly misplaced new opinions about the game or fortify existing ones.
“See?” they insist. “I told you golf is stuffy / sexist / backwards / run by dinosaurs / rooted in the dark ages.” Delete as applicable. This, in turn, fuels the seemingly ubiquitous myth that golf is something you don’t want to get involved with.
It’s nonsense, of course. Absolute manure perpetuated, in part, by cynics who have little more than a superficial knowledge of the game. They sit and sermonise with unwarranted conviction about a game they know little about.
They, though, are the least of the problems. Those closest to the game – those who play it, follow it, report on it, watch it and so on – are equally as guilty of talking it down all-too-often.
They huff, puff, roll their eyes, tut impatiently, and then log-on to social media to share their frustrations with the world.
Social bloody media.
Great in so many ways; terrible in arguably even more. Beyond the harmless pics of people’s dinner, kids, pets and holidays, there is a vast, permanently outraged echo chamber where every voice and every thought strains to be heard.
Golf regularly takes a battering on these platforms. It’s this, it’s that, and seldom are this or that good things.
Thing is, if you’re so inclined, you can find fault with every sport. Take football. If I was put in charge of FIFA for the day, I wouldn’t waste a minute. From the trivial (a ban on the unnecessary nonsense that is squad numbers) to the more serious (a straight red card for diving), I’d ring the changes loud and proud. There’s so much about the beautiful game that I find ugly. Doesn’t mean I don’t love it, though.
Where football and golf differ is that football doesn’t need to work as hard to get people playing it and, in any event, has evolved beyond the point where the sport is dependent on grassroots participation. Golf isn’t there yet. Not by a long stretch. That’s why it needs more positive PR.
Such a thing shouldn’t be too much to ask and yet it often seems as though it is. Maybe it’s a cultural issue, an indictment of a society predisposed to dwell on the things it doesn’t like more than the things it does. If that is indeed the case, it’s a shame – but not beyond fixing.
Golf has a multitude of values that deserve to be extolled. It’s great for your health (both physical and mental); you don’t need to have a particularly high level of anaerobic ability to participate; it’s multi-generational; it’s wildly addictive and rewarding. I could honestly fill the pages of this magazine with everything that is great about the game.
Does it annoy me? Of course.
Infuriate me? Regularly.
Make me want to tear out what is left of my hair? You bet.
But, and I suspect this is true for most people who routinely bump their gums about it, I’d rather have it than not. A life without golf doesn’t sound like much of a life.
So, what do we do? How do we move forward? Simple: we strive for balance. I’m not for a second suggesting we stop pointing out the areas in which golf needs to improve. I’m suggesting that we don’t resist pointing out the good things about the game for fear of being labelled a sycophant. Taking pleasure in something isn’t lame, no matter what anybody says.
These days, it seems as though it’s easier to be critical than complimentary. That’s pretty sad. Surely there’s room for both? Because here’s the problem: if we keep telling the outside world that the game is 'negative this' or 'rubbish that', we can hardly complain when the world listens and responds in kind.
Golf, to paraphrase the late, great Arnold Palmer, is perfect in its imperfection. Isn’t it about time that we all, collectively, started to revel in rather than lament that fact? If we do, who know, we might start to enjoy it a whole lot more.