So Rory McIlroy has finally come up with the four most apt adjectives to describe a professional golfer; " naive, egotistical, selfish and ignorant'. He was referring to Phil Mickelson and some of his recent comments about the PGA Tour and the proposed Saudi Arabian backed breakaway tour.
In all my years of trying to portray golfers who get paid to play I could never get myself to use the most appropriate ones without feeling like I would betray them. Given that they have provided me with the capacity to make a living, I thought it prudent to censor my own pen.
Thank you Rory. Now that the four time major champion and icon of the modern game has had the audacity to express in a very thoughtful and measured way, how he felt about his colleague’s comments, I feel a tremendous amount of relief.
I have been asked on numerous occasions by golf enthusiasts about ‘ what such and such is really like’, but I never had the heart to burst their bubble of adoration. So I usually muttered something like ‘ he is misunderstood’ or he has ‘an angry face’ or he ‘ has a lot to bear’, in an effort to excuse some golfer’s appalling behaviour.
The most amusing aspect of Rory’s carefully chosen words is that if you were to write the requirements in a job application of a successful professional golfer ‘naive, egotistical, selfish and ignorant’ would feature prominently as pre-requisites for the job.
The Sky television commentator and ex-player Andrew Coltart recently ripped the silk rug of complacency from under a player who had blithely suggested that his reasoning for potentially signing up to the Saudi Arabian led tour would be so that he could feed his family. Coltart was quick to suggest that he was tone deaf and had insulted people who were genuinely trying to feed their families on meagre incomes and spiralling inflation.
It wasn't a question of putting food on the table, more likely securing the purchasing power to choose a Michelin starred restaurant in which to feed his family. Somewhat naive you might say.
As brave as Rory has been for actually expressing what he thought instead of the traditional bland diatribe that tends to constitute a golfer’s interview, Coltart has been even more daring in directing criticism at those ‘darlings of the fairways’ who have seemed until now untouchable. I hope he doesn’t lose his job over it.
Of course Rory won't lose his job for his honesty but he will make life difficult for himself by calling a fellow player out for making stupid comments. This spat is a step beyond the fabricated contretemps between Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau over the size of their muscles. This was Rory standing up for the moral fabric of the PGA Tour.
Rory’s next two adjectives ‘selfish and egotistical’ are really at the heart of the professional golfer’s psyche. You could even argue that they are the most important qualities to going anywhere near making it as a professional golfer. How many times have you heard a player being referred to as ‘being too nice’ to make it to the top.
In fact as a caddie ‘nice and agreeable’ would be an added bonus when looking for a ‘good bag’, but the chances of of finding a nice and agreeable new bag which will make you a living are pretty slim. Looking for a self obsessed narcissist would be more appropriate if you genuinely do want to feed your family as a caddie. If you are mistakenly looking for a friend as a golfer you are not in the right place.
Of course there are always exceptions but if you want to make a living from toting a bag the general rule is don’t go for the nice guy.
If you can imagine what it takes for a golfer to establish himself as a world power then you can go a long way to understanding why it is almost wrong to expect them to be anything other than ‘selfish and egotistical’.
You have to be exceptionally talented, then you have to have the ability to relentlessly bang balls on a range until your hands bleed. After this you have to go to the gym to sculpt your body to enable you to hit balls all day long, further and straighter than you did yesterday.
Finally you have to bring all your honed skills together on the golf course with a card in your back pocket with the eyes of expectation bearing down on your every move. The demand is a low score, no excuses. How would you survive without being self-obsessed, egotistical and selfish.
It is unreasonable for anyone looking into this strange existence of obsessives to expect them to be normal people. Normal people bring in average scores. Average scores miss cuts.
In order to perform at this lofty level golfers surround themselves with people who support them and fuel their egos. They don’t need to be unhinged by criticism or doubters. So if you are in the inner circle and you voice a challenge the chances are you will not last long.
It may have been a bit harsh to call Phil’s words ignorant as he has always struck me a someone who is better informed than most golfers. But the trouble with success on the golf course is that some can feel that they have become authorities in many other fields also.
Success can seep into a whole range of subjects leading the golfer to believe they are in fact omnipotent.
So its best to stick to what you do best. But if you do show some tendencies for naivety, egotism, selfishness and ignorance the chances are you will have a long and successful golf career ahead of you.