As Mike Wilson writes, the richly-rewarded young men blessed with a God-given talent need to take a reality check and accept the adage that whoever pays the piper calls the tune.
The richly-rewarded young men blessed with a Godgiven talent need to take a reality check and accept the adage that whoever pays the piper calls the tune.
Imagine an English Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United, the Old Trafford outfit winning a lastminute penalty in front of an outraged and uproarious Kop. Spot-kick-taker Romelu Lukaku is pleading for silence before lining up his attempt on goal, or complaining to the referee about the inevitable jeers, boos, brickbats and insults during his run-up as he attempts to snatch three vital – and potentially championshipwinning – points for the Old Trafford Outfit.
Or Roger Federer is stopping play and pleading for calm during a vital rally in the final set of the Wimbledon final against his archrival Novak Djokovic with the US$3million winner’s check and world number-one ranking up for grabs.
Yet, that’s exactly what is emerging in men’s professional golf. Current world number-two Justin Thomas bleating on course and later in the media room about audience participation at the Genesis Open. Rory McIlroy also claimed the galleries following gave him a headache and that he needed, “A couple of Advil,” to combat fan behaviour on course.
And all because of a few rowdy fans or for the sake of argument, let’s call them paying customers - whooping and hollering. Albeit mindlessly as this richly talented and even more richly-rewarded young man out of Louisville, Kentucky went about his business
on the tees and greens of the luxury resort that is the Riviera Country Club in California in February, he might be well advised not to bite the hands that feed him.
“I guess they just think it’s funny,” said the 24-year-old, adding, “It was pretty wild [those] first couple of days, the fans’ behaviour got a little bit out of hand.”
Thomas, who eventually finished tied ninth and earning a more than decent US$180,000 bemoaned after it was all over, including the shouting, “It was alright for a little bit today,” before bellyaching, “But there at the end, it got a little out of hand.
“It might be funny to them, and obviously people think of it differently, and I could just be overreacting,” he concluded.
Just what would his fellow Kentuckian, the late, great ‘Louisville Lip,’ Muhammad Ali have made of it all? The master of spin before spin doctors had been thought of, Ali knew what box office was, putting bums on seats and selling pay-per-view TV. And young Master Thomas, a very nice young man by all accounts would do well to take a leaf out of the great man’s book and be thankful for what he’s got.
Thomas even took matters into his own hands by personally ejecting a heckler from the following week’s Honda Classic which he won, adding a more than healthy US$1,188,000, taking his career earnings to close on US$40m - not bad for a man of just 24-years-old. Excellent work if you can get it and surely worth putting up with the occasional taunt from a few fans?
But Thomas is not alone.
Earlier in February, at the attractively-named Waste Management Open in Scottsdale, Arizona, where the PGA TOUR has created a rod for its own back by nominating the 16th hole on the Stadium Course for player-and-fan engagement. Where, it seems, anything goes, Thomas’s Ryder Cup teammate Rickie Fowler was bemoaning the conduct of a small but vociferous minority of the 719,179 paying public.
“I may be somewhat of a fan favourite, but they weren’t holding back,” Fowler said, adding “I was a little disappointed with some of the stuff that was said, and I don’t want much negativity. The normal boos for missing a green, that’s fine, but leave the heckling to a minimum.”
Even Australian Marc Leishman’s wife
took to the airwaves slamming US fans abusive conduct as last year’s President’s Cup. Partisan US fans - fuelled no doubt on weak beer, fine wines or strong vodka courtesy of official sponsors Michelob, David Frost Wines and Grey Goose vodka - calling for International players’ to hit their ball into the vast Liberty Straits waterways.
Mild stuff compared to the vile racist and homophobic abuse dished out at every football ground in the UK every weekend, including taunts about Manchester United Munich air crash, reciprocated by abusive songs about the Hillsborough disaster, even the mimicking of hissing gas Nazi death camps aimed at the traditionally Jewish Tottenham Hotspur.
Rory McIlroy recently ventured the view that crowd involvement from the ‘Get-in-thehole,’ and, ’Mashed potato,’ brigade cost Tiger Woods at least a couple of shots per round. But, in all fairness to the back-to-form star, he took it all in his considerable stride, and it didn’t do him too much harm, did it?
And, talking of the Ryder Cup, where hostilities between Europe and the USA will be resumed in the sedate, leafy outskirts of Paris in September. Don’t tell me that the Stars and Stripes inside and outside the ropes - and some Europeans too - will be high-fiving it, egging each other on, echoes of the infamous ‘War on the Shore,’ at Kiawah Island in 1991.
Pumped-up Poulter, big beasts of the golfing jungle, like Bubba, Lefty and DJ, even Tiger if he plays, deep in the heat of battle are capable of – and probably will – act with the same impunity inside the ropes as the get-in-thehole birdbrains will outside them and golf. And professional golfers must learn to play the game in the adversarial context of 2018 and beyond.
Professional golf a quarter-of-a-century on from what was nadir of golf bears little resemblance to what is now sportsentertainment as opposed to pure sport. And the quicker Messers Thomas, Fowler, McIlroy et al., get their heads around that fact, the better it will be for all, and some of the declines in the game’s popularity may even be reversed.
So, a message to every self-obsessed young golf star, to be pinned on every locker room door and writ large on the dashboard of every luxury, chauffeur-driven courtesy limousine, ‘Who pays the piper calls the tune.’ And, ‘if you can’t stand the heat in a very lucrative kitchen,’ find yourself another line of work.
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