Every one of the 156-man field will drive off the first tee at Bethpage today in the opening round of the 2019 US PGA Championship.
John Daly will do so in more ways than one.
As you may be aware, the 1991 champion has been granted special dispensation by the PGA of America to use a buggy this week. Without it, he says, he wouldn’t be able to take part.
Osteoarthritis in his knee has left him incapable of walking more than six holes. Until such times as he’s eligible for knee replacement surgery – something he says doctors have told him he is too young for – this is the deal.
He’s not the first player to use a cart in a major. Casey Martin, who suffers from a birth defect in his right leg known as Klippel-Trénaunay syndrome, did so in the 1998 and 2012 US Opens.
However, the decision to make an exception for Daly has split opinion.
Some say let him ride. Others say not.
I’m the ‘not’ camp and I’ll explain why.
Presented without comment. pic.twitter.com/BCSG1p2Cde— George Savaricas (@GeorgeSavaricas) May 15, 2019
My instinct is that the PGA of America has made this decision for two reasons. One, it creates buzz around a championship that, historically, generates less than its three fellow majors. Two, it doesn’t view Daly as a title contender. So long as he’s not bothering the top of the leaderboard, what’s the issue?
But what if it was Tiger Woods or Dustin Johnson or Brooks Koepka or Rory McIlroy requesting to use a buggy? Can you imagine any circumstances under which the PGA of America would entertain that idea? Not likely. It would call the integrity of the tournament into question, and legitimately so.
Equally, would those in favour of the special treatment Daly is benefiting from be so enthusiastic about it if the player in question was a tournament favourite and not, say, one of the game’s most unorthodox? I stand to be corrected but I strongly believe a lot of people are hiding behind the opportunity to virtue signal by calling this a ‘disability matter’ when the truth is that their opinion is being driven by an admiration for a blue-collared man playing a white-collared game. Everybody loves an underdog, right?
This dog, though, has had his day.
What the PGA of America is essentially saying is that Daly is just making up the numbers. No harm, no foul. But has it considered the precedent being set? I’m not convinced.
Let me be absolutely clear, this isn’t about inclusion, nor is it a disability rights issue. It’s about a player not being fit enough to compete. That’s the bottom line. This is a major championship. It’s one of the four biggest events in the men’s professional game. It’s not your weekly medal. It’s not a bounce game. It’s serious business and ought to be treated as such.
To the best of my knowledge, John Daly is not disabled. To suggest that he is is to do a disservice to athletes who are. I would describe him as ‘debilitated’. I could simplify it further to say he’s unfit. He’s not the first golfer to suffer from arthritis. He’s not the first golfer to be incapable of walking 18 holes. As Tiger Woods pointed out earlier this week, he once played with a broken leg. No buggy for him.
Do I sympathise with Daly? Of course I do. What kind of cold-hearted, unfeeling robot wouldn’t? Imagine being incapable of doing the thing you’re good at, the thing that you love because father time, poor lifestyle choices and bad luck have conspired against you. It would be gut-wrenching. Heart-breaking, even. But it shouldn’t qualify him for special treatment. The conditions of competition are called conditions for a reason.
Let’s look at it another way.
What if a hurdler suffers from something that makes it difficult for him to jump? Should the IAAF be expected to let him to clear fewer hurdles than his competitors?
Does an arthritic cyclist get to use a hybrid bike to scale Alpe d’Huez in the Tour de France?
Does an arthritic marathon runner get to run 25.2 miles instead of 26.2?
Rhetorical questions, all of them.
The PGA of America, I’m sorry to say, has got this one wrong.