On a return to Ancient Rome

Ryder Cup

Well, the Ryder Cup is about to kick off in Chicago, with all of the associated jingoism, mass hysteria, and xenophobia that goes with it.
I have loved and played the game of golf for the greater part of my life. I can still remember Jack Nicklaus as a brash young man, with crew-cut hair and belligerent attitude, taking on Palmer and Player in all those early challenge matches. In those days Nicklaus was young and he was arrogant and he was slightly obnoxious, or certainly to me, and certainly to the legions of Americans who worshipped Arnold Palmer.

But, later, I also remember Jack Nicklaus picking up Tony Jacklin’s four footer, on the final green at Royal Birkdale, to tie the 1969 Ryder Cup, in those days when GB and Ireland team religiously got their backsides kicked by The U.S.A.

Jack Nicklaus

Times have changed, and attitudes have changed, and now the game of golf has changed. Europe now wins more than its share of Ryder Cups, and the rivalry has intensified to the point where it has become unhealthy. Given a similar scenario, to Nicklaus and Jacklin in 1969, I very much doubt that Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy  would be allowed to do the same thing today, because all that matters in The Ryder Cup today is grinding the opposition into the ground, in an effort to somehow assert one continents superiority over another.

Tiger Woods

That, to a point, is fine, because winning is why men and women play professional sport; winning cups, or medals, or championships, or the Super Bowl, or Grand Slams, or World Cups, or ten-million dollar challenges, but what worries me is the trend from healthy spectator partisanship toward unhealthy xenophobia.
When I say that I include the players. Players get wrapped up in the competition, and that is good for the game and good for the audience, but when players begin to incite crowds with aggressive gestures and a patently obvious dislike of their opponents, I draw the line.

In physical-contact sports, where aggression on the pitch is transmitted to aggression in the stands, I can understand the difficulty in controlling emotions, but in Golf?

The media, too, are playing their part in fostering this unhealthy rivalry.

The Olympic Rings

In The Olympic Games we saw more attention given to which country finishes where, in the medal table, than to the running of the races and the playing of the games. For an event so steeped in the history, culture, sportsmanship, and all-round good-natured amateurism of The Olympic Games, seeing this blatant jingoistic muscle-flexing left me feeling saddened and sickened. Even in The Paralympics we saw more attention paid to the medal table than to the remarkable achievements of every one of the athletes who overcame so much to just be there and competing.

Jack Nicklaus overcame the natural belligerence and impetuosity of youth to become one of sport’s most gracious and well-loved ambassadors, because the fabric of the game encouraged him to do just that, but how will tomorrow’s stars learn if the fabric of the game is destroyed by blatant commercialism, nationalistic fervour, and xenophobia?

There will always be idiots in sport, whether watching or playing, because sport and intellect are so often mutually exclusive, but in golf, where standards and traditions were once so important, I can see no need for this biennial return to the mob-rule and xenophobic excesses of Ancient Rome and The Circus Maximus.

 

I love golf, but I won’t be watching The Ryder Cup. I haven’t done so since Kiawah Island in 1991, and I see no reason to change now. But when you watch, if you do, and when you see and hear the chanting, and xenophobia, and all-round lack of grace exhibited by everyone concerned, you will be watching a great sporting spectacle, but you will also be watching the general and inexorable decline of sportsmanship, sporting tradition, and the wonderful game of golf.

Have a good one.

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