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Different ways of handling adversity
On the threshold of winning his first major championship, poor Rory McIlroy suffered a traumatic collapse at the Masters while Tiger Woods, as usual, carried on regardless

Rory McIlroy's demise over the last nine holes of the Masters caused much discussion in golfing circles. Not since Jean van de Velde's monumental blow-up on the 72nd hole at the Open Championship at Carnoustie in 1999 had there been so many errors before so many eyes. In the space of three holes, McIlroy’s dreams were shot. His tournament ended, the caravan moved on.

I’d say that 90% of commentators, writers and observers gave their considered opinion that McIlroy would take a long time to recover. One or two even intimated that the wounds could stay forever. That’s why I was delighted to see, contrary to so many ‘expert’ opinions, he played so well the following week in the Malaysian Open. I can’t imagine what it must have been like flying from Augusta to Kuala Lumpur after suffering so many body blows, sitting with friends who would commiserate, arms round shoulders, trying desperately to find kind and sensible words of encouragement. You know the sort of thing – “Take the positives out of this”, “Learn from your mistakes”, “Don’t let it happen again”, “You’re only in your early 20s – there’s plenty of time”, and so on.

Brian Moore, writing in the Daily Telegraph, had some very punchy words on the question of how sportsmen and women should behave in moments of adversity, particularly when the sporting gods have dealt them cruel blows. Comparing McIlroy with Tiger Woods and their respective attitudes in front of the cameras is like comparing Irish Stew to a hamburger. Moore thought McIlroy’s calmness could be seen as “worrying” and came up with the old line: “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.” Moore speaks from the stance of playing a game at the highest level where the ball is “shared”, where physical aggression comes very much into play. He played rugby, where they stamp, claw, gouge, punch and sometimes suffer irreparable damage in the cause of sport.

Moore enjoys being controversial and I enjoy much of his writing, but on this occasion I can’t agree. Golf is not a shared-ball game. It’s slowpaced, the demons are created in the player’s mind and he or she has to learn to deal with them. The dear late Sir Henry Cooper told me long ago that boxers had to learn to control their aggression outside the ring. Within the ropes be a mean, fighting machine, but, whatever you do, don’t get into a pub argument and hit someone on the nose, because your fists will be classed as lethal weapons.

Tiger Woods is some 15 years older than McIlroy and, without question, has been a magical performer, the greatest by miles of his generation, but rarely has he been gracious. I find that difficult to understand. After all, it’s part of the game of life. I don’t think I ever saw Muhammad Ali be ungracious in the same manner. He might have been a bit snappy on occasion, but there were always shafts of wit or a twinkle in the eye. Only on a handful of occasions have I seen that in the case of Tiger Woods.

Steve Williams and Tiger Woods
Is there a tougher job in golf when things ain't going Tiger's way?
Money aside, of course

At Augusta, there were moments when Woods played majestically.

He didn’t win but he looked back on track. How wonderful it would have been if he had come off the 18th green and, when asked the usual questions, taken his hat off, rubbed his fingers through his hair, smiled, and said something like: “Oh, that was better. I really did feel I had a chance of winning coming down the stretch. You know, it was wonderful to get that feeling back.” The smile would continue and he might have said how he enjoyed the affectionate glow emitting from the crowd. But no. Po-faced and rude.

In the history of the game, no other great player has behaved in the boorish manner of Tiger Woods when being interviewed. Go on, put your thinking cap on, go back through all the faces of the great champions you’ve seen play, and remember. I agree they didn’t all jump about like Coco the Clown, but they did show a gracious side. Perhaps it would be better described as “style”. Tiger certainly looks stylish but on too many occasions his crassness shows and when the opportunity comes along to reflect the warmth of the masses, he spurns it. Well, that’s his business. It’s nothing to do with me and I don’t care. I’m just sorry that a player of such immense talent, who has been through some of the biggest personal turmoil of any human being, doesn’t appear to have the ability of looking in the mirror and doing a bit of self-analysis.

But Brian Moore makes one pertinent point here. Trying to get sensible words from someone who’s just completed a marathon, swum 800 metres or won the Grand National is not easy. I remember watching Roger Bannister break the four-minute mile barrier. He collapsed through the tape, looking for all the world like a dead man. An interview then would not have been a good idea, although nowadays they complete the mile in well under four minutes and are hardly out of breath. In many ways television and other media have become a monster. They, too, should look at themselves and wonder whether they might adopt a different style of gaining information.

June 2011

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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