‘ That mo­ment your sport­ing he­roes be­come... nor­mal peo­ple’

Why my view has changed with age about the men and women I once idolised

Today's Golfer (UK) - - First Tee -

Once upon a time, long, long ago, I stopped be­liev­ing. More pre­cisely, I stopped be­liev­ing in the magic of sports stars, no longer idol­is­ing them as I did. Be­cause as a child that’s cer­tainly the way it is. Fa­mous sports peo­ple are god­like crea­tures, seen on TV and stuck upon bed­room walls. Firmly Blu-tacked above my bed was a cut-out dou­ble-page photo from a golf magazine of the 1987 Ry­der Cup team, taken on the 18th green of Muir­field Vil­lage, not long af­ter Olazábal’s grace­ful samba/un­cle-at-awed­ding dance.

Yes, I re­alise that I was 14 at the time and prob­a­bly should have been af­fix­ing posters of Lam­borgh­i­nis or scant­ily-clad women, rather than Howard Clark and Gor­don Brand Ju­nior. But I loved golf and these men were su­per­heroes to me.

And then it changed. It wasn’t a sud­den thing, an epiphany, more a grad­ual ero­sion – but over the next few years, and fairly rapidly once my work­ing life be­gan, my view­point al­tered.

I think this is a per­fectly nor­mal pro­gres­sion as you ma­ture – to let go of child­ish things and in­stead watch sport and its par­tic­i­pants through a more crit­i­cal eye. In­deed, now if I see a fully-grown adult ask­ing for an au­to­graph I tend to think that it is ei­ther head­ing for ebay or that the per­son is in breach of a re­strain­ing or­der.

These thoughts came again to my mind af­ter the vic­tory of Pa­trick Reed at The Mas­ters. Only be­cause as a win­ner he was not – how to put it – over­whelm­ingly pop­u­lar. He has a rep­u­ta­tion which means that he is never go­ing to top a poll of fan favourites.

Two things to note about this. Firstly, are we en­ti­tled to write or read about his his­tory and his per­sonal life? Mostly peo­ple say the sto­ries shouldn’t be told, or that it’s none of our busi­ness be­cause they feel that a pri­vate life – ev­ery­thing off the course – should re­main off-lim­its.

What are we en­ti­tled to know of our golf­ing stars? Is this not just the kind of pruri­ence that you would find in tabloids or in the murky click­bait of the on­line world?

Well – not re­ally. As soon as some­one has suc­cess in a pub­lic do­main, they be­come a pub­lic fig­ure. It would be very odd in­deed if peo­ple did not then re­port other things that have oc­curred in that per­son’s life, good or bad.

Back sto­ries can be both in­ter­est­ing and rel­e­vant. They make us in­vest more in the play­ers we see. Make us pick our favourite and sup­port them or se­cretly root against an­other – that is a per­fectly nat­u­ral and ac­cept­able thing in the fol­low­ing of sport. Oth­er­wise we are all just watch­ing dif­fer­ent-coloured shirts wan­der­ing round a course, some tak­ing fewer shots than oth­ers. Like­wise the lat­est book on the life of Tiger Woods. Scan­dalous gossip and hearsay for some; fas­ci­nat­ing, thor­oughly re­searched and per­ti­nent say oth­ers. Se­condly, why should we be sur­prised when we dis­cover that our sport­ing cham­pi­ons are not per­fect any­way? It’s the same phe­nom­e­non which leads us to give more cre­dence to the opin­ion of a Hol­ly­wood ac­tor on any num­ber of sub­jects. You should never meet your he­roes, as the say­ing goes. You meet sports peo­ple and find them… nor­mal. And of course, why should they not be? Some are in­ter­est­ing, oth­ers are dull. Some have done strange and silly things, oth­ers have led saintly lives help­ing pup­pies across the road and giv­ing old ladies a tickle be­hind the ear. Cer­tainly some play­ers that I once looked up to I have later found to be ill-in­formed, or have ques­tion­able opin­ions on a range of top­ics. Yet peo­ple lis­ten to them, and per­haps give their opin­ions more va­lid­ity be­cause they won a Ma­jor, or shot 63 in a tour­na­ment, get­ting up and down from a bush on the last. But of course they are clearly hu­man like the rest of us – with flaws as we all have. Maybe it is be­cause golf – and sport in gen­eral – is pure es­capism that we don’t want to con­sider that those who do it so well and make us mar­vel at their skill, are just as at­tached to lowly re­al­ity as the rest of us. We want them to re­main part of the per­fect fan­tasy and don’t want to sully it with mun­dane mat­ters. True, part of the na­ture of the job I do means that you never re­ally see sport as a fan any more – al­ways watch­ing in­stead as the ob­jec­tive critic. Yet naive in­no­cence would prob­a­bly make it far more en­joy­able. Every­body has to grow up at some point, but how much nicer would it be to still have just a lit­tle bit of that child­ish won­der? And to still be­lieve in su­per­heroes.

‘WHY SHOULD WE BE SUR­PRISED TO DIS­COVER OUR SPORT­ING CHAM­PI­ONS ARE NOT PER­FECT?’

What P a t r i c k Reed t hi nks o f, well, e v er y one.

P ar t o f t he BBC c om­men­tar y t eam, An­drew Cot­ter gr ew up t ack l i ng Ay r shir e’s l i nks and pl ays o f f 3. Foll ow hi m on Twit t er @ Mrandr ew­cot­ter

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