x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Good that golfers speak their mind

Several of golf's biggest names are being continually quizzed on a similar situation, that of the sport's world No 1, Tiger Woods. And they are not exactly biting their tongues.

The great thing about golfers is that they are not afraid to speak their mind. Unlike footballers and rugby players, cricketers and basketball stars, golfers rarely represent a team and thus have little fear of being dropped for a wisecrack or jibe that is taken out of context. While Chelsea's multi-million pound players carefully sidestep questions regarding the infidelity of their captain John Terry, and the now former England captain blankly refuses to speak to the press, several of golf's biggest names are being continually quizzed on a similar situation, that of the sport's world No 1, Tiger Woods. And they are not exactly biting their tongues.

Tom Watson, the 60-year-old eight-time major winner, criticised the Californian earlier this week, calling for Woods to "show some humility" when he decides to return from his self-imposed exile from the game. Geoff Ogilvy, who won the 2010 season-opening PGA Tour event in Hawaii, advised Woods to make his first public appearance at a non-golfing event "out of respect" to his fellow professionals, while Phil Mickelson, the world No 2, urged his compatriot to return sooner rather than later.

Only a handful of the sport's personalities have opted to remain quiet, with most citing they cannot pass comment without being made aware of all the facts - facts that, as sports agent Chubby Chandler pointed out to me recently, "only two people really know". Mickelson himself has come under fire from his peers of late too, with several players condemning his continued use of a controversial 20-year-old club. Lee Westwood, the European No 1 said the American was "bending the rules" by using a Ping Eye 2 - a club that features the now-prohibited box-shaped grooves, but it was made pre-1990 and is consequently within the rules.

Yet Mickelson's fellow PGA Tour member Scott McCarron went one step further, branding the use of the wedge as "cheating" - an allegation the three-time major winner has since indicated he will let his lawyers deal with. If such action is taken, the consequences will surely tighten the lips of golf's more talkative tour members, but thankfully, it is unlikely they will ever degenerate into the toe-the-line troops that prosper in other sports.

I remember speaking with the Arsenal defender Gael Clichy last year and walking away from the interview thinking I would have been as well asking my questions to the public relations official lurking in the shadows. Any slightly contentious issue was quickly sidestepped. Golf, in that sense, is refreshingly honest. Players do not arrive at tournaments desperate to discuss the issues of the day, but if they are asked a question, they are more often than not willing to answer. They understand there is an interest in what they say and appreciate there is nobody more appropriate to respond than them.

Footballers understand this too, but recognise that, as well as thousands of fans, they also have a manager watching their every move. One wrong word and they could be left out in the cold. Rather than face the risk, players would rather play puppet. Coaches have, in recent years, found themselves facing fines and criticism for their outbursts, while players, as the cliche so often goes, tend to prefer to, "let their football do the talking".

Of course, that is not to say golfers do not have people to answer to - the recent termination of several of Woods's multi-million dollar marketing deals provides perfect proof that they do - it instead simply shows they do not have anybody else to provide the sound bites. And that is the way it should be. gmeenaghan@thenational.ae