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Monday, 17 July 2017


A QUESTION OF WHOSE OPEN

I have been very quiet lately on the blogging front.  Been engrossed in keeping my head down in true golfer’s fashion but not because I have been out on the course.  No, I am currently "time poor" and golf is just not happening.  

There’s been the little matter of my son’s wedding to distract me and the preparation has involved the hunt for a killer MOG (for the uninitiated: Mother of the Groom) outfit to wear on the day.  “Killer” does not have any bearing on my relationship with my future daughter-in-law.  I am fortunate in that I gain an extra daughter but when your only son gets married, it is incumbent on the MOG to look drop dead gorgeous.  I intend to - having spent the best part of a sum the size of a house deposit on the outfit.  There’s also the other little matter of the Hen Do to prepare for - hence no golf.

But now I am back and I have something to say about golf.  In fact, it’s a bit of a gripe.  The Open: it is almost upon us.  That’ll be THE Open.  It does not need an appendage adjective to describe or prefix it.  It is not The British Open or The UK Open or The Great Britain Open. 

Like Wimbledon and The Masters, it stands alone. 
Naked. 
No qualifier needed.

The Open is the first; it is iconic; it is the prototype and stereotype; it is sacrosanct.  Since the 17 October, 1860 at Prestwick, Scotland, it has been just that.  All else is follow-on, copy, or replica.  Most importantly, it is this side of the pond and we love it.  And we love its name, undiluted and unadulterated. 

Say after me: The Open. Well done.  Now go to the top of the class.  You can add prefixes and suffixes ad infinitum to anything you like under the sun but leave those two words alone when you refer to what happens with a certain Claret Jug in this part of my back yard but once a year.

Now I take the Fifth Amendment before I make the next statement.  A straw poll vote tells me that Uncle Sam might just be the greatest offender.  You stole our football and gave it back to us as soccer.  You stole our Open and gave it back to us as The British Open.  Lehman Brothers stole our money but come to think about it, they still haven’t given it back.  Will they ever?  Will they heck as like!

But we have not complained.  The British stiff upper lip has taken the slight on the chin in bulldog style but as I’m neither stiff, upper, British, or gifted with a chiselled chin – but most certainly lippy - I thought I would put it out there for comment.  Hit me with it.  Am I the new Luddite in golf or do I have a creditable point?  

I have just noted the greatest offender on Twitter and I am calling you out: no less than the PGA.com with a whole schedule of tee times, television viewing and live stream links for the British Open.  Well, hay-de-hum, I wonder when that little old thingy tourney, The American Masters, will play.

Answers on a postcard please.  I have no time for reading long spiels.



Thursday, 6 April 2017

Trooping The Colours: When Orange and White might be the new Green of The Masters




Trooping The Colours: When Orange and White might be the new Green of The Masters

Rickie Fowler’s heart was never in the final day of the Shell Houston Open.  It was as if his double bogey on the eighteenth hole on the third day had sounded his death knell.  We didn’t know it or hear it, or want to hear it, and our expectation was that he would come out, fighting fit, on the final day to make a comeback that saw him drop to three behind the leader at the end of the third day of play.  It never happened and Rickie’s final “Orange” day was one that left his followers somewhat blue.

That final day was a struggle – with a wild drive on the second that resulted in a double bogey and finding water on the fourth to drop yet another shot – before he found a modicum of form with a few late birdies that saw him close with a seventy to tie for third place with Luke List.

Rickie will tell us it was an alignment problem at the beginning of the final day that caused his bad start and he now believes that he has it sorted and under his control with that late run of birdies as proof.

Which is just as well – for round the corner from that Shell Houston Open experience, we have Augusta, The Masters, and the first major of the season.

The perennial big question bubbling on everyone’s lips is who will be the winner and, to make matters as coherently prognostic as the eventual outcome of Brexit or the reign of President Trump, everyone is coherently united on their lack of common agreement on the nature of the course, the type of play, the skills set required for the win and what player possesses those exact skills at this precise moment in time.  In other words, blindfold yourself, spin round three times, and stick a pin in the list of names that form the official field.  You will have the same modicum of success as the top pundits with all their rhyme and reason.  It will also keep you busy while waiting for the Thursday tee-off.

As Augusta throws open its doors to the great unclean of the everyday world for its annual golf-fest Masters season, the professional players of the golfing world are casting their shadows - like giants on stilts - over the coveted jacket.  While nobody rates Danny Willett’s ability to defend his title after an abysmal year that has seen him more weighed down by his win than uplifted, Rory remains hungry and a green jacket short of a grand slam.  With the jury still out on Dustin’s ability to finish four rounds and not choke in a major, the nearest thing to agreement from all interested parties seems to be in the form of Jordan Speith, a former Master and expected winner of last year’s title too - until Augusta’s most iconic hole decided to re-assert its trickery and pound out a new chapter in tournament history by scuppering Speith’s chance at a consecutive green jacket.  The recent sad events that have unfolded in Jason Day’s private life perhaps preclude him from the win (Jason: big shout out for your mum’s continued recovery and a return to bountiful health.), while Japan holds its breath in wondrous anticipation of their own Matsuyama.

Opinion and banter in the lead up to The Masters is all part of the fun and everyone approaches their choices through hardcore statistics, well-rounded debate and reasoned perspective.  I love it but I have never seen much by way of solidly consistent predictions because the mighty course of Augusta takes no prisoners nor respects any pundit’s forecast so, respectfully bowing to the might of the eighteen holes at Magnolia Lane, I am staking my claim to the predictions board and pinning my hopes on little mentioned but ninth ranked golfer on the Official World Golf Ranking list, Rickie Fowler, for the jacket.

I have a thousand reasons to do so but most of all he has my support for all that he brings to golf. 

First off the tee then…
He’s hot-to-trot number one in the world of golf fashion stakes.  His cleated high-tops, six-pocketed jogger-style “bicycle clip” pants and continuously daring-dazzle outfits have given him an instantly recognisable silhouette, endeared him to the younger generations and sent the die-hard traditionalists into a yellow funk.  He puts the fun back into the image of golf apparel and I applaud his efforts, especially when I hear the middle-aged spreaders choking on their words and struggling to commentate on his style.

Driving it down the fairway…
Even if you are not a style icon or have not a thread of interest in the “fashionista” stakes, there is a fistful of facts that form the building blocks to Rickie’s character and make him a positive role model.  Although fiercely competitive, he brings the elements of friendship and fun to every tournament.  He loves his family and has a strong bond with his grandpa who taught him to play golf and to treat people with respect.  Rickie emulates his grandfather’s attitude to life and love of people.  He has a Christian faith that is important to him and, for all of Fowler’s “flash” image, he remains old school and grounded.  Those who know him first-hand will testify that he was brought up in a humble home where he was never put on a pedestal.  Before golf came knocking on his door as a career choice, he was already great at Motocross and it was only a triple fracture that ended that career.  Those attributes are the colour of gold.

Crafting the approach shot…
On the threshold of The Masters, Rickie is playing some great golf.  February saw him tie for fourth at the Phoenix Open and then win the Honda Classic.  In March, he posted a couple of top-16 finishes at the WGC Mexico and the Arnold Palmer Invitational and last week, he finished with a tie for third place at the Shell Houston Open, which augurs well for his form.  However, his appearances at previous Masters range from plain cold through medium hot to cool.  He failed to make the top twenty-five from 2011 – 2013 but scored a fifth place tie in 2014 in tough scoring conditions.  2015 saw him tie for twelfth place but his last year’s entry failed to make the cut.  That first drive looked more like the Flight of The Bumblebee through the Georgia pines and, by the time he’d come up for air, his first round had carded up a massive eighty and he fared not a lot better with a second round of seventy-three. A resoundingly grey start could only sent his 2016 game into oblivion.

Chipping it in for the pin…
There are a number of right-to-left doglegs at Augusta National and that necessitates being able to hit a draw.  Rickie drives it straight but his flat swing and shallow connection with the ball allow him to do just that when the need arises.  Putting in fluctuating green speeds will also be a key factor and reigning in any overly aggressive tendencies on medium length putts, especially when the greens are running fast, will be an issue that Rickie will have to take control of but, if stats are what floats your boat, Rickie’s tee-to-green game is fourth on the PGA Tour and his putter is at ninth in strokes gained putting.  He is in the pink with these current stats.

Putting it out there for the win…
But the icing on the cake that makes Rickie the perfect choice for me is all to do with the colour scheme.

First and foremost, I’m Irish and I am all for an Irish Master.  My representatives for the coveted green jacket are Lowry and McIlroy.  I am not banking on Shane for a green keepsake and, although Rory is sporting a relaxed attitude and a fresh approach after weeks of incapacity, he remains a flaky putter and will struggle with those Augusta yellow-flagged pins at some point.  He is not my reliable white knight.

Secondly, I’m English – having lived a greater number of years in the UK than I’ve lived in Ireland - and there is only one player for me whose game is admirably suited to Augusta National.  His name is Justin Rose.  This is his twelfth start and he has an excellent record of finishing in the Top Ten, apart from his first ever visit which resulted in a 39th place, but short-game issues still remain and I cannot see him entering a purple patch in time to take this Masters.  Besides which, I celebrated in all shades of red, white and blue last year when Danny did us proud.

So next available on the colour spectrum has to be Rickie.  Those of you who are hot on the study of vexillology will have worked out the connection by now.

Arnie wore pink, Tiger red, Player black, and orange – aggressive red made more personable by yellow – is Rickie’s chosen colour.  He usually pairs his orange top with white trousers on the final day.

As he dons the green jacket at the end of the fourth day, I, for one, will laud an American Master aesthetically dressed in the Irish tricolour.  Flag it up and troop those colours, Rickie.  It’s your time to shine and the closest I am likely to come to an “Irish” win in The Masters 2017.

Monday, 3 April 2017

AMEN to AUGUSTA…a nostalgic look back at The Masters 2016





I wrote a piece on The Masters this time last year.
What a stunning tournament it was and I am re-posting it just to add to the stimulation and anticipation that is out there as we wait for The Masters 2017.

The field is looking great and it’s beyond exciting as we wait for the cliff-hanger moments over the next few days.  No matter how much the sun may shine and the call of the great outdoors beckons, I shall be glued to my telly, scrutinising every move.

To Augusta, The Masters 2017 and the first major of the golf season: bottoms up.

That (DAM) Masters

Anyone who’s anybody has written something about somebody when it comes to The Masters - The Masters 2016, that is.  The one that took place seventh to tenth of April and is now packed up, all clean and shiny in its Augusta foil wrap, and stowed away till next year.  It’s done and dusted for most - but not so me.  I’m a “nobody” who has nothing much to say about anybody, and I’m a bit slow off the mark when it comes to in-your-face cutting edge commentary but that never stopped me and I find I do have some things to say about some bodies, no matter how late it is.

There’s a defining moment in every event – the one that sears itself into the memory bank, like a hot knife through butter, to render it the key to unlocking all the other memories associated with that event.  We’re talking memory map here and in the future, when The Masters 2016 has disappeared into the haze of history, I could not help but wonder what key figure or feature would outshine all others and give this year’s Augusta its pivotal moment of indelibility eons down the line.

Straight off the first tee, Ernie Els was in contention for that “Defining Augusta Moment” (DAM) title.  Bang went his putter on the first green.  Six feet from the hole, six times it pendulum-ed – or rather it yipping-well didn’t – and before you could shout “Hammer House of Horrors”, his yip-blip, heebie-jeebies, snakes-in-his-head moment had gone viral.  In a few deeply embarrassing swings of a putter, Ernie had morphed from The Big Easy to The Big Difficulty and earned himself an ignoble first place in The Masters’ records by carding a nine on a par-4.  Oh my, he makes my game look professional!

Not satisfied with his first day’s performance, second day out on the same hole, the endearingly lovely Mr Els had another pop at destroying the record books at Augusta and attempted to capture that DAM title again: he eventually finished the hole for a double bogey six – three less than the day before - but only after he had brained an unsuspecting spectator with a wayward second shot and that ended up way left of the green.  The magic in those moments was not the extraordinarily high score but the grit of a man whose love for the game and the venue kept him from belly crawling back to the clubhouse in a red embarrassed blush and fortified him to stay and play the entire round in the presence of Jason Day, knowing his every moved was being televised.  I died a thousand deaths for him.

Next, Rickie Fowler gave it his best shot.  Rickie may hit the greens in regulation with regularity but nobody could accuse him of regularity when it comes to the regulation dress code.  Like his golf, this dude has gone a fair way to spicing up the somewhat stodgy, stale image of golf’s dress code but, while he looked hot to trot out there on the august Augusta course, his game was cool – that’s “cool” in the Oxford dictionary meaning of the word and before the Urban dictionary had a shot at redefining it.  Having carded 80 and 73 in his outings, the nearest Rickie came to reaching that DAM moment was the speed with which he exited at the cut.  Rickie, get the heat on in your game to make it through all four rounds.  You are fun to watch.

Ripping it off the tee box next came the triumvirate charge of Ireland’s Lowry, America’s Love III and South Africa’s Oosthuizen
with a clutch of aces on the 16th in the final round - and all within a two-hour space.  Lowry showed the way with a perfectly pitched shot, followed by the Love attempt.  By that time, the commentators were yawning and explaining to anyone who’d listen that it was way too DAM easy to hole-out here until Louis threw a curved ball into the equation by copping an “assist” on the green from the already well-placed ball of his playing partner, JB Holmes, and made it look, for a tottering moment at least, that he had abandoned his game of golf and was engaged in France’s ancient game of p├ętanque as he cannoned his ball into JB’s and took the deflection off it to sink his hole-in-one.  That silenced the pundits’ yawns and lit up our screens.  Amen to those DAM aces, Hat Trick Boys.  Just keep them coming.

The Jordan of Israel has a record of biblical proportions.  The Jordan of golf has an equally biblical record.  And it seemed a fittingly biblical place that golfer Jordan’s game began to unravel at the aptly named Amen Corner.  So be it.  That young man, seemingly possessed of the patience of Job, had played a pretty faultless game till then but, critically, dropped a point at hole 10; he dropped a point at the next hole too.  However, these bumps in the landscape of Jordan’s game merely serve to re-focus him in a bounce-back run that will always keep him in contention.  That’s the nature of his play.  That’s what we all expected.  That’s what should have happened – and it so easily could - but nobody reckoned with Augusta’s most iconic hole deciding to re-assert its trickery and pound out a new chapter in tournament history by scuppering Speith’s chance at a consecutive green jacket.  Twice in Rae’s Creek went his ball while taking a divot the size of Mount Ararat on his second “water” shot.  The 80th edition of the Masters could well be remember for that episode and, while Jordan re-wrote the record books for the second year running, it was not the sort of record he wanted to write this time out.  Not by a long, card-shattering DAM shot!  I usually shout advice at the telly but I was beyond silence at this point.

And then came Danny Willett and his grinder’s grit.  Flashing Sheffield steel and a white head-to-toe outfit, he plugged away.  Son of a preacher man, Danny’s a Christian with a baby fresh out of the oven called Zachariah (meaning: Yahweh has remembered) who happened to be playing the final round in Augusta on his wife’s birthday and baby Zach’s original due date: oh Danny Boy, who says there wasn’t biblical forces at play here too?  Providence provided, it would seem.  Whether or not there was divine intervention working in his favour, Danny Willett had the chutzpah to confirm himself the implausible champion of The Masters 2016.  He already had a Masters-green shirt underneath that white outfit and all he needed was that Masters-green jacket to complete his bedazzling look.  He DAM well succeeded.  I am in awe.

But the other hero of the hour never left England and provided us with rich tweets that defined every passing DAM shot that Danny executed on the home run.  As we watched those closing holes, hanging on the edge of our seats, willing Willett to the win as he made three birdies on his final six holes, his brilliant brother PJ ribbed and ripped us with his hilariously insightful comments.
“Speith is lining up his putt.  If I’m quick, I can get a beer, go to the toilet, and paint the spare room before he hits it.”
“Speith, you’ve won one before.  Wind your neck in.”
“Green makes you look fat.  Refuse the jacket.”
“If the boy does what he should, I will be able to say “I’ve shared a bath with a Masters’ winner”.  Brilliant.”
“Three putt this and you might as well stay in America.”
And we laughed and cried our way through those riotously pride, love and rivalry-filled comments as Danny stormed it through those Defining Augusta Moments to the coveted green jacket.
And that DAM win is best expressed by PJ’s summation on Danny -
“Speechless.  I once punched that kid in the head for hurting my pet rat.  Now look.”

Willett & Bro: I can’t wait for the next outing of you winsome, wise, and wonderful wags.  Roll on the US Open but I shudder to think what PJ will make of the Ryder Cup.  After all, he won Twitter #TheMasters but he could break America with his #RyderCup comments.

Bring it on.










Friday, 17 February 2017

TIGER WOODS: whose race is it anyway?



The year is 1996.
After his third straight US Amateur win, Tiger Woods turned pro and then won two PGA Tour events in that year. In the immediate aftermath of that, Tiger’s father, Earl Woods made a statement.  It was to prove a seminal statement – and prophetic too.  He declared that Tiger would do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity.  He qualified that by saying he would do more than Gandhi, Buddha and Nelson Mandela because Tiger would have a larger forum than any of these great men.

Now ask yourself the question.  Whose interest has Tiger Woods being serving since he started out on the road to golfing fame?  Hand on heart, can you say that he has been fighting for ethnic minorities, taken up arms on behalf of African-Americans-Asians anywhere, projected a role model image through his golf or displayed an altruistic interest in the greater good of people-kind?  With the world stage to play on, Tiger has shown little by way of role model behaviour on and off the fairways but he has benefited immensely from the kudos and adulation of the hero status he has accumulated along the way.

The year is 1990.
You live in America
When you think golf, you think white, middle-class, quite possibly Christian, and you see it as a gateway to networking and business deals.  You wouldn’t be wrong.  The written records will bear witness to the longstanding elitism within the golfing fraternity and the county club set.  Golf was not considered the sport of blacks or ethnic minorities.  They were excluded.  It was as late as 1975 before black players were allowed to compete in the Masters at Augusta and, until 1982 in that hallowed ground, all the caddies in the tournament had to be black.  Servitude and not membership were the order of the day.  As late as 1990, Augusta did not admit black members and conceded only because they would have lost the right to host this tournament. 

The year is now 1997. 
It’s the thirteenth of April of that year and a twenty-one year old man has lifted the coveted green jacket.  He has made history.  He is the youngest winner of the Masters.  His -18 under par finish is quite simply the best finish ever and his 12-stroke lead underscores that achievement but he has broken the biggest record of all: he is black.  Nothing of his ethnicity is taken into account; nothing of what he had said previously about his racial origins is noted: only the colour of his skin matters here for, although the Caucasian-only rule had been rescinded by the PGA in 1961, the concept of racial inequalities still exists on both sides of the black and white divide in everyday life in America. Excitement abounds and much of the furore that surrounds this win is seen as a way of atonement for the white-dominated segregations and the past misdeeds in this sport. 

The new hero of this hour is Tiger Woods. 

And Woods responded in a manner that seemed to embrace his African-American origins by naming Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder and Ted Rhodes – three black golfing giants who had not received full recognition - as the pioneers who had paved the way to his win.  His racial identity was embraced on either side of the colour divide and he was lauded both for his sporting excellence and as a representative of racial breakthrough.  When the hour demanded, the man came forth and the stage was set for the launch of Earl’s predicted forum.

Suddenly, we had hope in a brighter future.

Two weeks later, on the Oprah Winfrey show, Black America lost its newfound hero.  That’s when Tiger announced that he was uncomfortable with the term African-American as applied to him and, for the first time, we heard him describe himself as Cablinasian – a term that he had composed as a youngster.

Cablinasian is simply a portmanteau of the starting pair of letters from the words Caucasian, black and Indian, with Asian added to the end of these letters.  Tiger has chosen this title to embrace the race and ethnicities of his parents – his father was African-American, Chinese and Native American and his mother is of Thai, Chinese and Dutch descent. 

While he has drawn praise from many quarters for this unique stand which honours the origins of his parents, there are those who have condemned him for this action for, by creating this unorthodox name to describe himself, he has added yet another ethnicity to the variety of methods already in use to identify both origin and culture.  It did nothing to restrict categorising people by race either. Instead of classifying him as an icon of universalism as it was designed to, it isolated him from his black African-American roots while diluting the impact he could have made on racial issues.  Some have even accused him of distancing himself from multiracialism to protect himself and his personal interests alone.

Much emphasis has been placed on his appearance on The Oprah Winfrey show and on the insight he gave to the concept of his own ethnicity therein but Woods also appeared with Barbara Walters on prime time ABC television in July 1997. Walters addressed questions of racism and discrimination and asked Woods about his black heritage.  He restated his multicultural credentials as African-American and Asian while acknowledging he was “all these other things”.  Coupled together with his status as a Cablinasian, there was also the Tiger who, as an African-American-Asian, had suffered discrimination, making him at once unique and exotic.  It implied sameness and stability within differences and change and this dual-edged approach seems to support universalism and individualism that, in its outer appearances at least, transcends race, colour and ethnicities. 

He may not see himself as black but he has realized and capitalised on his innate talents from the earliest stages of his life.  At the age of six and under his father’s guidance, the young Eldrick was listening to motivational tapes.  His upbringing was not built on the need to gain equal access or challenge racist practices at every opportunity.  It was all about personal development and an individual’s journey.

We should not have been surprised by his stance if we go further back in time.

The year is 1995
Tiger is about to play at Shinnecock Hills, New York.
It is two years before Tiger wins the coveted Green Jacket and a year before he turns professional. 
It is the night before he plays in the US Open and Tiger releases a statement.
It was a telling statement designed to deflect what he believed would be bothersome questions from the media about his racial background.  He did not mention Cablinasian then but the intent and tone of his release makes it clear that he sees himself as the product of two cultures – African-American on one side and Asian on the other – but he underlines the fact that ethnic background and composition mattered little to him.  He is the new era, colour-blind all American boy.

The year is now 2015.
Doctor Charles Luther Sifford has just passed away.  Charlie Sifford was instrumental in challenging the Caucasian-only rule of 1943, which prevented black players from playing on the PGA tour.  After a long battle to qualify, he was finally admitted to full membership in 1961, thus becoming the first African-American to play on the PGA Tour.   

In a fitting tribute to this iconic black golfer, Tiger reveals the nature of a very close relationship he had with Sifford when he refers to him as “grandfather”.  Later, he acknowledged in an email to The Associated Press that neither he nor his father would have picked up the sport if it were not for Sifford’s monumental impact in challenging, and causing, the PGA to rescind the Caucasian-only rule.

Woods also enjoyed a close relationship with another great pioneer, Lee Elder, the first African-American to play Augusta in 1975.  Just before Tiger teed off on that fateful Sunday of his first Masters win, Elder came to share a private moment with him on the putting green.  To the watching and the waiting, it was clear that Woods understood, and identified with, his African-American heritage.

Identifying yourself does not really matter if the rest of society views you as black and even though Tiger may epitomise the new colour-blind melting pot of American cultural diversity, his sexual scandals brought with them their own particular problems.  These transgressions were not viewed as the tainting of racial purity but the contamination of a commercial brand.  When the scandal of his serial adultery broke, his sponsors remained loyal to him.  The journalists and marketing experts all avowed that the scandal would have little impact on his advertising appeal. 

They were wrong. 

The problem was never a question of morals but rather that a large gap had opened up between Woods’ advertising persona and his public image.  As the revelations piled in, the biggest career in sports folded before our eyes.

Woods image and appeal had always been built on his extraordinary capacity to focus and be disciplined.  When Tiger won the US Open in 2008 while playing with a broken leg, it was not his physical ability that received most comment – it was his sheer single-mindedness, hard work and dedication that saw him dubbed as the exemplar of mental discipline. To the American public, Woods’ approach to his game embodied success not just in golf but also in life itself.

For celebratory endorsements to work, it is paramount that there is a dovetail fit between the identity of the pitcher and the product being pitched.  Woods had everything: wife, family, fortune, fame, a squeaky-clean image and supreme control.  He was at the top of his game.  He was in the enviable position that enabled his image to fit snugly with many brands but, in the blink of a car crash with a fire hydrant, the carefully crafted image had disintegrated in a cloud of woeful sex texts, voicemails and celebrity groupies and all of these things combined to make him look vulnerable and disconcerted.  Tiger’s attractiveness lay not in his reflection of the human condition but in the fact that he was different from the rest of us – never weak and distracted. 

The year is 2017.
The Tiger Woods name sells just about everything but, to his public, he remains a hotch-potch of mixed signals.  It is akin to playing a game of Hide and Seek with a toddler who changes the rules in the blink of an eye because they have no real understanding of what they are engaged in.  Earl Woods is right in one aspect: Tiger has the biggest forum at his disposal with his huge international brand platform but he has neither the skill nor personal integrity to utilise this structure to advance the lot of the minorities of humankind.   Tiger’s inability to venture outside his political comfort zone and stick his nose into the thorns of race, colour and ethnicities disproves the greater part of Earl’s statement.  While Gandhi, Buddha and Mandela were devoted to such ideals as human understanding and world peace, Tiger appears devoted to taking the money and saying nothing that will upset the consumer on any side of the racial divide.  This is a travesty of self-interest and raises the question that his Cablinasian stance is nothing more than an excuse to remove himself from the responsibility of being an icon for his cultural roots.

A few days ago, Nike unveiled a politically charged video campaign entitled “Equality”.  It features LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Serena Williams, Gabby Douglas and Victor Cruz.  Tiger Woods appears to be part of this endeavour by showing his support on Twitter for the advertisement’s message and, on the face of it, it is noteworthy.  Woods spoke recently on America’s need to unite following some controversial statements from the White House but on deeper examination, however, he has only made his stance within the security of the Nike brand and he is a long way from being the Universal Child of his mother’s depiction and his father’s prophecy.

In this day and age, it seems the only race that exists is that of the brand and Tiger has failed to become the anticipated cross-cultural messiah. As is his wont, Tiger continues to sew the seeds of confusion and he remains another rich, talented athlete with his own personal demons.  Role models are designed to be emulated but, apart from his money and golf, what else has Tiger Woods got?  As his game is on the wane, soon there will only be the money and the memories.  His cold-shouldering of all things racial from the very outset of his golfing career can never bestow on him the accolade of icon to the marginalised or the minorities.  He remains a beige shadow of the vision his father had mapped for him and belongs in a Cablinasian bubble of his own making where brand is the race he belongs to and money his ethnicity. 

Perhaps it is best that he remains a hero: heroes live in ivory towers and are so far removed from the common lot of mankind as to make them irrelevant to the daily lives of the masses who do not buy into the belief that brand and ethnicity are the only cultural heritage you own.   






Sunday, 5 February 2017

THE SECRET LIFE OF TIGER WOODS





Notah Begay says it and when Notah Begay says it, sit up and take notice.  He says it is Tiger’s last outing, and he’s right.  It is Tiger’s swansong. There will be no second coming after this. And Notah thinks he can win.  At least one win this year and he expects him to peak in the springtime.  It may be just a matter of getting some more tournaments under his belt but the question remains: is this a good buddy-bolstering remark or the hard-headed opining of a seasoned golf analyst?  And who could blame Begay if he cast aside his seasoned opinion and led with his heart in supporting his good friend’s return to the professional circuit after a sixteen month sojourn - for these are two people who met and bonded at a youth tournament in California when a twelve year old Begay walked up to a nine year old Tiger and started a lifelong friendship with the opening remark “You’ll never be alone again”? 

But Michael Jordan thinks not and when Michael Jordan thinks not, then we need to sit up and take a double dose of notice.  As Tiger has tightened the net on the circle of friends that remain within his close-quartered entourage, those that remain are all we have to act as portals to the private world of Tiger Woods.  And private he is – for this is a man who has the capacity to appear and disappear with the stealth of a leopard and has named his boats Privacy and Solitude.  While many super athletes have personalised registrations and customised paint jobs that they like to vaunt, Tiger has blocked the tail number on his plane.  He flies under the radar, cloaked in the solitude of his self-made world, living in a sixty million dollar Florida home that is its own compound and which he inhabits mostly alone since his tabloid divorce some seven years ago.  Michael Jordan is one of the chosen who remain on the inside track and if anyone has any idea of what might happen in Woods’ future, then it is the lot of Jordan to provide that insight.  As late as last year, he expressed his belief that Tiger will never be great again.  He cannot tell him so directly because he loves him too much.  That’s as may be but he has put it out there in the public domain for public consumption and, by no stroke of divine intervention, there is an unquestionable certainty that his good friend Tiger has read it. 

Michael Jordan’s take on Tiger’s position leaves us with the distinct impression that Tiger should entertain a period of reflection on the future success of his career.  Is this the result of protracted conversations as friends are wont to do as they burn the midnight oil – let’s face it, there is nobody on Tiger’s horizon who is better placed to advise than Michael Jordan as he has already weathered that storm – or the out loud musings of a man who sees what his friend cannot see: that there comes a time in every life where a reckoning has to be made?  Whatever the history behind his assertion, we are left with the feeling that Michael’s musings are from a place of intimacy that few have access to. 

There is so much of Tiger that is conundrum and conflict and the end of a career that was foreshortened by a dramatic fall from the grace of a carefully contrived public image has made that reckoning a tainted thing, a staining on the ideal of his own perfection and opened his tightly held belief of destiny and glory to a rigmarole of regrets that seemed at times to border on the edge of festering.  But Tiger’s depleted game is not at a low point merely because of the injuries to his image.  His body has taken its toll and responded to the extreme exertions of training and workouts that he has exposed himself to over a protracted period of time.  Along with the powerful speed and impact of his swing, the physical regimes he has expounded have taken their toll on his joints and, by default, the healing time demanded by those injuries has detracted from his focus, fitness and practice.

And now he is back.

And we watch.

For failure.  For fear.  For excitement. For a score that will signpost his route back to success.  For the win.  For his fall.  For the fun.  For the fascination.  For the hope re-born.

This return was prefaced by an earlier outing at the Hero Challenge in December of last year and Tiger watchers who have agonised over his every shot will report that he made more birdies than anyone else.  He also made more bogeys too but the consensus says his game lacked the mark of confidence and the stroke of genius that dominated every part of his game when he played on stellar heyday form.  There is nobody like Tiger who can envisage a shot with such unwavering clarity that he can will it into being.  Like he did in 2003 in the Presidents Cup with the light fading as he putted against Els on the par-3 second hole at Fancourt Country Club.  Els had five feet and Woods fifteen.  Tiger took his shot and drained the bender into the hole.  The watchers at the hole will testify that he created it in his head and willed the shot into form for, when he took that shot, it was almost pitch black.  Those spine tingling days are long gone.

Rust or fatigue he was asked – and his honest reply left us in no doubt of the state of his Hero Challenge game: poor decisions, getting his legs back, not being ferried in a cart, and focusing for an extended period of time.  His caddie backlit that statement by saying his priority was to get him through all the rounds on his feet.  There were eighteen players selected, no cut, and Tiger came home fifteenth.  This was never for the win.

Fast forward to the PGA tour, Torrey Pines, South Course, San Diego.  It’s late January.

He’s playing and we watch with the same fascination and hope that we experienced at the Hero Challenge Display.

Hundreds of fans lined up to watch Woods on the first tee.  And they lined up in their droves, outside the ropes, to follow their hero.  Tee to green, the fans, the bewitched, the bemused, the golf aficionados followed his every move.  Round the greens they swarmed like drones to a hive, several rows deep.  He managed to hold par on the first nine.  As he made the turn, even the workers at the Scripps Clinic at Torrey Pines came out on the balcony and lined the glass-fronted building.  But Tiger let it slip away during a six-hole stretch on the back nine, finishing the day on a 4-over, 76.  Next day on the easier North course, he made par when he needed to make sixty-eight.  His round was inconspicuous and he was never any threat.

While his short game might have had some merit, his new swing never hit the mark.  He likes to play off a fade but he never looked like he knew how to execute one. Even Tiger himself looked relieved when he managed to keep it out of hazards and the rough, while his putting lacked the shine and accuracy that we expect of him.  His body language spoke silently but loudly.  Gone was the loping stride of his six foot- one frame.  The set face, so long familiar to us with the starched stiffness of supreme focus, had disappeared.  In its place were a variety of expressions that ran the gamut from frown to smile and covered every shade of emotion between.  Tiger has long been as much an actor as a golfer and the persona he projected on his red-and-black garbed winning Sundays was designed to intimidate his every foe.  You could not envision him wearing those colours today.  He ended Friday on the North course with a birdie and a smile but that was all.  He missed the cut in his first competitive field of professional golfers.

Now here’s the rub. 

Tiger is still wounded.   Deep down, those scars are still there.  It’s not in the adjusted swing that it shows - for Tiger has sported three different swings in his career so far.  It shows in his favoured fade shot and it is painfully clear he is no longer in control of that long ball.  Notah Begay says that he swung by Tiger’s place fairly recently and watched his old mate beat out those balls in a continuous stream of precision but even the least experienced golfer knows there is a huge difference between hacking a bad ball off the grass when you can unswervingly follow it with a stream of others that allow you to correct your error immediately.  Any predictions of Tiger’s return to a major win in the next year based on range and practice tactics is a far cry from the failed fade we have recently witnessed out there on the course.  With fifteen minutes between shots, there is time for the worrying pinprick of a minor fail to mushroom into a cascading faucet of self-doubt.  And it is here, when Tiger’s A-plan has flown out the window, that we can see the rot evident and the wounds revealing themselves.  There is no fall-back plan.

Tiger got on his plane and headed for Omega Dubai Desert Classic, European Tour.  It’s early February. 

We are watching again, looking for something glorious that would mark him out for success.  The hope in us is now dwindling towards the dying of the light.

Woods shot an opening round of five over, 77 – a round which sported five bogeys and no birdies.  It was inglorious and his worst score outside of the US in a non-major since 1996.  The television announcers commented on his physical condition on almost every hole.  Tiger walked slowly, very slowly.  By the fifth hole, the Twitter army were speculating on a withdrawal.  His look was pained, although he later denied that pain.  Tiger did not withdraw and he even began to warm up, but he remained aloof throughout the round and made minimal conversation with his fellow players.  His look was fragile, intent, and he had the air of a man who knows he has lost his cloak of invincibility.

Tiger is fit.  He can walk the course.  He would not be out there if his orthopaedic team had withheld its approval.  The word on the street says he is exercising twice a day.  That is no bad thing but it is the type of exercise that counts here: a return to the old, demanding regimes or a new programme designed to accommodate the damaged back?  The question remains inadequately answered but the hope must be for sense and sensibility to prevail and a physio team to monitor his every move.  Sean Foley was hired as Tiger’s coach in 2010.  Under Foley’s tutelage, Tiger’s swing became steeper and he regained the distance of his younger years but Brandel Chamblee has a distinct take on this.  Reviewing Woods’ progress at Dubai, Chamblee remarked that Tiger’s swing could be dangerous to his health.  Woods admits that his current swing is designed to avoid another injury but Chamblee is of the opinion that this swing is a remnant of the golf swing he had seven years ago and he sees this as the cause of Tiger’s injuries. 

On the second day of Omega Dubai Desert Classic, Tiger Woods withdrew.

At the outset of this comeback, Tiger said he was physically fit and his golf was getting there.  In 322 tournaments played, he has been forced to withdraw five times but four of theses have been in the past nineteen months.  He has reached a point where his body looks like it is something he no longer trusts but, more tellingly, he no longer seems to trust his golf either.  It doesn’t leave him much to play with but the greatest sadness of all is watching a fabled professional golfer searching for something out there that he no longer knows how to find.

Nor do we – and somewhere on the Dubai golf course, our hope expired.

As the freak storm descended on day two of the Desert Classic and stopped play, Tiger put on his cloak of invisibility and slipped quietly away.  He did not face the media or his fans but left that duty to his agent, Mark Steinberg.  His leaving, like his life, proves that a leopard never changes his spots, or a tiger his stripes.


We wait for his next appearance without the shred of hope.