x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

It's not elementary for Watson

Bubba Watson, the US golf pro, did not get to remain in Paris long, missing the French Open cut, but perhaps overstayed his welcome.

Because their "sport" is designed to be played by corpulent retirees, professional golfers rarely need to consider a second career.

They are not like footballers, who must find something to fill the yawning chasm between testimonial match and last testament.

Nor are they like boxers, who must scour the Sits Vac pages for positions which do not require a fully functioning frontal lobe. Perhaps this is why David Haye, who still claims he will retire by October, wants to play James Bond. Well, he did grow up in the Roger Moore era.

But not golfers. Oh, no, golfers can keep on swinging until the bitter end if they choose to, pegging out on the Senior Tour when they realise, halfway up a deceptively steep 17th, that the tall chap holding a scythe is not, in fact, a groundsman. Fairways to heaven, if you will.

Until recently, this was never a source of concern to me. Quite the opposite. Ex-sportsmen tend to drift towards media jobs, clogging newspapers and airwaves with their poorly researched flim-flam and idle chit chat. Frankly, that makes it harder for asthmatic hacks like myself to do the same, but with added wordplay, so I was grateful that golfers did not exacerbate the overcrowding.

But that was before Bubba Watson lit up the French Open this week, not with his golf - a bogey-strewn disaster best described as woeful- but with his unintentionally hilarious commentary on the charms of the host nation.

The affable American described the Eiffel Tower, arguably the world's greatest example of stylish engineering, as "the big tower". He also described the Arc de Triomphe as, not inaccurately, "an arch", and the Palace of Versailles as "the castle we are staying next to". Yes, that is the thing about great palaces, stuffed with priceless art. They are convenient landmarks for finding your way back to the Holiday Inn.

To be fair to Watson, it must be difficult to fake enthusiasm for a little backwater like Paris. He hails from Bagdad, Florida (population 1,490), which is due to get its own Taco Bell any day now.

The French, however, were inevitably outraged. Damning a Frenchman's cultural jewels with faint praise is pretty much the gravest insult one can offer.

Everyone assumes that Zinedine Zidane butted Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final due to some foul sexual or racist slur. In fact, I have it on excellent authority he whispered into Zizi's ear: "Le Louvre is basically an old house with some drawings in it."

Television producers take note: Watson must be given his own travelogue show. It can run concurrent to his golf or, if necessary, following some kind of accidental career-ending injury.

Personally, I would like to see an ESPN special with Watson visiting all remaining wonders of the world. Just imagine Bubba expostulating on the Great Pyramid at Giza ("a pile of rocks, but kinda pointy"), the Roman Colosseum ("round theatre, needs work"), the Great Wall of China ("like a picket fence, but bigger") and the Mayans' Chichen Itza ("hey, didn't we do this pyramid thing already?").

How to cook up some interest in cycling for the viewers

Running with the twin themes of “great television shows never likely to happen” and “upsetting the French”, let us turn our attention to their little bicycle race, which starts today. I have tried to muster enthusiasm for the Tour de France, but always failed.

This is odd, because I have huge respect for the cyclists and can appreciate the wanton cruelty of the physical challenge they undertake. But, apart from the chaotic sprint finishes and occasional pile-up, where does the entertainment lie? What thrill is to be gained by watching a dozen freakishly fit men pound their way up a mountain, in much the same formation, for seven hours?

Then there is the weeping sore of drug abuse. Do I really want to spend July watching Alberto Contador win the Tour, only to see him stripped of it by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in August?

The Spanish champion, you will recall, blamed a batch of contaminated meat when he tested positive for clenbuterol last summer.

As ever, I have a solution which could tackle the drug issue while broadening Le Tour’s appeal. Just imagine if every stage ended with a celebrity chef knocking up a delicious meal for all riders, both cooked and consumed live on camera.

Not only would the presence of a Marco-Pierre White reach out to the non-cycle nuts, but, as all riders would be dining on the same grub, it would be harder for them to blame adverse drug tests on their food. And what a great talking point for the pundits: “Well, Ken, Mr X tested positive after Stage 15, but he did not even have second helpings of Rick Stein’s Marseille-inspired bouillabaisse.”

“Absolutely, John, and we all know that Stein collects all produce on the day of cooking, so no freshness issues there, surely."

Well, I’d watch it.