Golf is a game of integrity and honesty and is one of the last bastions of true sportsmanship, writes GARY LEMKE in Compleat Golfer magazine.
When Kagiso Rabada was banned for the second Test against England after he sent Ben Stokes on his way back to the pavilion with a ‘f**k off’ at Lord’s, the cricket fraternity almost went into meltdown.
This was the heat of battle, they chorused. Has sport become so soft that a player is not allowed to express his emotions with so much at stake? For decades sledging – swearing? – has been tolerated and even encouraged, so why pick on Rabada, a national South African treasure?
We have seen the top professional tennis players throw their rackets out of frustration, scream profanities at an umpire. John McEnroe, the sport’s ‘Superbrat’ of the 1980s, was considered an ‘entertainer’ because of the way he played and then poured out his emotions with extended outbursts.
One doesn’t have to be a certified lip-reader to see how some footballers scream at opponents and referees, or boxers who swear at their rivals in the buildup to a fight.
It’s all part of the game, they say.
And then there’s golf.
Throw a club in anger or dare mouth a swear word and it’s considered a sin of the highest order. Apologise, or be ridiculed.
The Spanish golfer Jon Rahm is the latest high-profile figure to feel the wrath of the golfing community after his petulant display at the US Open at Erin Hills. The 22-year-old had a torrid time of things and failed to make the weekend cut.
He threw and kicked his clubs, tossed a bunker rake and punched a tee marker as his emotions took over in the unforgiving atmosphere of a Major situation.
Afterwards you’d have thought he’d committed the ultimate crime.
‘I do like to feel my emotions,’ he said. ‘But what happened at Erin Hills cannot happen again. I’m deeply embarrassed about what happened. I apologised to [playing partners] Rickie [Fowler] and Hideki [Matsuyama] about what I did.
‘My emotions get the best of me sometimes and when I think I have it under control, I stop the work and I go back, having a bad day like that. It really shouldn’t happen. It’s something I feel bad about.’
While golfers are expected to keep a lid on their pressure cooker of emotions, amid the glare of television cameras and spectators who are only a few metres away from them, other sportspeople can release the valve, and it’s described as ‘passion’.
Golfers of all levels also have honesty and integrity at the heart of their game.
In what other sport would you find someone, unsighted to anyone else, call a penalty on themselves? ‘Hey Joe, while I was clearing some twigs from near my ball there under the trees, my ball moved a centimetre. That’s a two-stroke penalty.’
Do cricketers routinely ‘walk’ when they’ve got an edge to a ball? Do footballers tell the referee, ‘That’s not a penalty ref, I dived in the box’? Do rugby players say, ‘I knocked the ball on before scoring a try’? We could go on.
Golf is a game of integrity and honesty and is one of the last bastions of true sportsmanship. And it has a way of repaying the faith.
A few weeks after the US Open, Rahm teed up at the Irish Open. He ended up winning the tournament by six strokes – and this time the headlines were all about his brilliance and not the fact he’d thrown and kicked a few clubs. All was right with the world again.
– This column first appeared in the August issue of Compleat Golfer