x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

European Tour made wrong call after caddie’s tragic death

At the Madeira Islands event, longtime caddie Iain McGregor, 52, died following a heart attack at the course in the final round, yet tour officials nonetheless elected to play on, writes Steve Elling.

A moment of silence is held for caddie Ian McGregor, who died during the Madeira Islands Open in Portugal on Sunday. Mark Runnacles / Getty Images
A moment of silence is held for caddie Ian McGregor, who died during the Madeira Islands Open in Portugal on Sunday. Mark Runnacles / Getty Images

On the same Sunday, separated by an ocean of water, the two biggest organisations in professional golf made decisions that rankled many and confused thousands more.

At the Players Championship in Florida, the PGA Tour reversed itself after deciding it had blown a ruling regarding a two-shot penalty assessed to reigning US Open champion Justin Rose, who was in contention to win.

Tour officials explained the somewhat embarrassing rule reversal, answered all questions and faced the music. Generally speaking, the decision was saluted as proper and just.

At a third-tier event on the same day in Portugal, the European Tour took a look at a far-more-pitiable situation, and managed only to make it worse.

At the Madeira Islands event, longtime caddie Iain McGregor, 52, died following a heart attack at the course in the final round, yet tour officials nonetheless elected to play on.

Even in a staid and conservative sport like golf, very rarely does outrage rise to levels approaching complete unanimity. This was one of those times.

As Pablo Larrazabal, the reigning Abu Dhabi champion wrote on his Twitter account, “Live [sic] is more important than golf.”

As harrowing photos of emergency-response personnel working on the stricken McGregor in the middle of the ninth fairway began to circulate, the European Tour moved quickly to quell the blowback, noting that officials had conferred with players and caddies, who agreed that the event should be completed.

Alastair Forsyth, McGregor’s boss, confirmed as much, at least initially: “We felt that was what Mac would have wanted,” he said.

With an emotional pall cast over the grounds, why any discussion was needed in the first place was open to question.

Later, Forsyth told the Daily Record that his discussion with tour commissioner George O’Grady via speakerphone was largely one-sided: “His opinion was we should go ahead and complete it. We didn’t argue, but it was the tour’s decision.”

Apart from the human element, all the business components were aligned for the tour to do the right thing. The Madeira event is one of the weakest on the EuroTour.

No player ranked in the world top 240 had entered. It had been shortened to 36 holes because of poor weather. The US$825,000 (Dh3.03m) purse matched the smallest of the season. If the event had been abandoned, would anybody have noticed?

Scott Arnold, the Australian player, tweeted: “Majority of players yesterday didn’t want to go back out but got told by the TD [tournament director], ‘It’s a professional sport and the show must go on’.”

Veteran Peter Lawrie withdrew in disgust.

“In my opinion it was shocking, absolutely shocking, they played on,” Lawrie told The Guardian. “I have never withdrawn from a tournament before. A man died. I believe it’s totally wrong what they did.”

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