Ryder Cup piece, September 2006

March 25, 2008

Sound
of silence par for
the course

YOU may have noticed that the Ryder Cup golf competition is arriving on these shores. You haven’t? No phone signal in your cave? If you are living under the ground then you’re getting off lightly. There hasn’t been an advertising push like this since the Millennium Bug, or the eircom share flotation, and those comparisons are deliberately chosen. In the interests of disclosure, however, this column should confess a long-held view: that golf isn’t really a sport.

Look at the evidence. It’s possible in golf to be a top competitor well into your forties, even if you’re clearly out of shape, not to mention dressing in a powder-lemon v-neck with lovely grey slacks. What kind of . . . activity can be dominated by participants like that? Golf has its defenders, of course, who can no doubt recite great encounters and battles between the stars. The only problem is, if you’re at a tournament, what do you watch? The play is spread over a couple of hundred acres: there’re two players over there, another pair 300 yards away, and the duo finishing up are somewhere in the distance. But don’t worry if you think you’re missing anything: you’ll be forewarned by the deafening silence all around you.

That silence. Just watch a professional golf tournament and it’s like you’ve stumbled across a concelebrated open-air mass. The hush, the reverence, the sheer quiet: like communion is going on forever and ever. It’s possible to concede that hitting a golf ball 300 yards requires concentration, and that that’s aided by silence. So why have crowd noise at all at other sports, in that case? Could it be, to use the applied logic of
silence in golf, that rising for a line-out, picking out a target for a corner-kick, or cutting a sideline ball over the bar are in
fact so easy that they can all be done in a storm of booing and cheering? The extent to which golf is not a sport can also be established by the tell-tale desperation with which it attempts to create some sort of credibility. Every now and again a ‘character’ is heralded in the sport on foot of wearing a pair of trousers fashionable in the current decade, or the endorsement of a celebrity from the world of entertainment is produced like a star witness at a mafia trial: look, everyone! This rock musician likes golf, and everyone knows musicians are cool, ergo golf is cool! For the record, the musician most often produced to prove golf’s coolness is Alice Cooper, the very definition of a hostile witness in this particular trial. The prosecution rests.

The other cool character often cited as golf’s saving grace is Tiger Woods; as he’s not white, the logic went, he’d broaden the sport’s appeal. However, Woods has stayed silent since early tv appearances in which he said there were golf courses in the US he couldn’t play because of the colour of his skin. It’s probably unfair to pick on Woods for not becoming a symbol, but it’s a sad progression in three generations of sporting consciousness.

In the sixties Muhammad Ali gave up the world heavyweight crown on a matter of conscience; 20 years later Michael Jordan
refused to endorse a liberal Democrat candidate in an American election because “Republicans buy sneakers too.” At least the question was put to Jordan: who would even bother wasting his breath doing the same with a corporate glove puppet like Tiger Woods? Thus our background antipathy
towards the imminent – I almost said ‘looming ominously’ – Ryder Cup. We’re aware that people are still keen on it, despite the close arguments above.

“Ah, but I like to watch the best in any sport,” you say.

“Ah, so that’s why I saw you at the World Competitive Eating Championships,” we say.

“The Irish always do well in it,” you say.

“The Irish got silver in the European Bridge Championships a couple of weeks ago, you didn’t say much about that,” we say.

“Sure doesn’t it show the country off,” you say.

“It’s a golf course. Have you ever noticed the way they all look alike?” we say.

Naturally, we admit the possibility that we may be wrong. Perhaps the week after the Ryder Cup you’ll see every little kid on the street with his putter and driver, trying to emulate his heroes. Perhaps other sports won’t suffer a lack of coaching talent because retired players are too busy with their handicap to lend a hand with the kids on Saturday mornings. On the other hand, maybe golf will just revert to what it once was, al fresco networking for businessmen.

Fore.

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