Monday, July 27, 2009

Tiger’s Tantrums

Tiger’s tantrums at the recent British Open, have become the subject of much debate in the media (American particularly), on blogs and even on Twitter.

His language and club throwing were heavily criticised as being bad for the game and giving the wrong example to his legion of fans, especially the youngsters. But then the backlash began.

Why, people asked, should Tiger not be allowed to show his emotions? He is the best in the world and he’s not playing well, so surely he can show his frustration? Would we prefer automotons who never show a flicker of emotion, even when they win!

Consider your own weekly game and how frustrated you get when you play utter rubbish. You know you can play better and sometimes the emotions boil over. But it comes down to one simple question: is bad behaviour acceptable? And the answer is always ‘no’. Always. We can accept that it happens, but that doesn’t make it acceptable. I have thrown a club or two in my time and I always feel like an idiot after I’ve done it. The first thing that goes through my mind is ‘what would my father think of me?’ Someone pointed out that Tiger rarely threw his clubs when his father, Earl, was alive. It had been drummed into Tiger at a young age that it was not acceptable behaviour.

Tiger is unfortunate in that the cameras are on him every moment of the tournament (sometimes to the point when action elsewhere is ignored so we can see Tiger contemplating his navel), so every emotion he displays can be seen on YouTube within a few minutes. It can’t be easy living under that kind of spotlight. And because of his fame and his position as the world’s best golfer, anything he does gets magnified. Other golfers throw tantrums and bend clubs, but they don’t get the same amount of coverage because Tiger is, quite simply, Tiger.

There is no excuse for him throwing his clubs. There is no excuse for anyone throwing clubs. But that’s not the problem: the problem is how we and the media react to it.

We need to find a balance.

An American journalist, Rick Reilly, wrote a piece saying that it was time for Tiger to clean up his act, and that his sponsors should be concerned at his behaviour. That’s probably going too far. It’s not as if he’s taking drugs or punching people in bars – the man is a saint by comparison – but when I read on a popular golf blog that “I didn't find Tiger Woods' behavior objectionable at all”, I start to worry. Are we becoming immune to bad behaviour in golf and, if so, what will the kids who idolise Tiger be doing in a few years time? Let’s say for a minute that it becomes acceptable to throw a club. In five years’ time, every new pro will casually fling his club as if it’s part of the follow-through. It will become normal. So, what’s the next step up when a pro gets frustrated and angry? Assault your caddie? Scream at the gallery? Bury your putter in the green?

Golf is a gentle game, played at a leisurely pace. It’s not like rugby or GAA where frustrations can be expelled through physical contact and burning energy. All a golfer has are his clubs and, just occasionally, they will be abused. We know it happens and as long as we continue to agree that it is the wrong sort of behaviour, it shouldn’t happen too often. I like Tiger, Phil, Ernie and Padraig just the way they are, and emotional outbursts display the pressure they’re under and give the audience an insight into their world. But consider this final quote from one of the greatest sportsmen of the 21st century:

"One or two years ago, I didn't know who I was on court and I used to swear a lot. But now I've learned how to cope and can therefore win 10 matches in a row. I want to be remembered as a good player rather than an idiot on court." Roger Federer.

1 comment:

  1. Rick Reilly USED to be a decent writer. Ever since having the ESPN gig, he envisions himself as the last word on any topic he chooses to talk/write about.

    I wish Tiger would not do these things. I think they show immaturity. But, I think his father has the last word on Tiger's temper tantrums.

    Great blog, Kevin, I don't know how I missed you.