Golf is a gentile sport that emphasizes etiquette. Although they are competing against one another, touring pros are in actuality competing against the course – and themselves, the toughest foe of all. So, unlike team sports like football, hockey, basketball, or baseball, rarely are there any direct confrontations on the course. There is no penalty box for fighting, no 10-yard penalty for personal misconduct, no free throw line for fouls.
Although maybe it would make for good television if things were different. Booth: “Let’s cut over to 16 where there seems to be some altercation. David, what’s going on?” Reporter: “Well Nick it appears that Vijay yelled some expletive in the middle of Tiger’s swing. Woods is allowed to replay the shot, and Singh is assessed a two-stroke penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Then Woods’ caddie took a swing at Singh’s caddie and both have been ejected.”
Notwithstanding the reserved nature of the game, we all like to see healthy rivalries in golf. What’s wrong with a few barbed Tweets here and there in the spirit of competition? (The PGA of America thought Ted Bishop crossed the line when he referred to Ian Poulter as a “lil girl”, but most American golf fans ate it up.) We loved the friction between Woods and Singh and Woods and Mickelson. These guys might be good, but they don’t have to like each other.
So what’s up with the love fest between Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth? Before the first round of the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, where the golf world is transfixed on the showdown between the top two players in the world, you would have thought Rory and Jordan were preparing for a Ryder Cup four-ball match given the glowing remarks they made about one another.
Downplaying the head-to-head rivalry, Spieth commented “we’re all very happy to have [Rory] back.” Noting McIlroy’s advantage in distance off the tee, Spieth said: “I certainly envy that. There’s not much I can do about it right now except try to hit my approaches even closer and make a few more putts. But yeah, Rory’s an inspiring player.” If he might have had thoughts that McIlroy could twist his injured ankle on the severe terrain of Whistling Straits and withdraw, Spieth kept them to himself.
Similarly, McIlroy had nothing but praise for the youngster who’s trying to displace him from first place in the world rankings. Reflecting on Spieth’s remarkable year with wins in the first two majors and a near miss at the Open, McIlroy commented: “It’s something to be really proud of, especially how he handled everything at St. Andrews going into all the Grand Slam talk. He handled that so well. I probably wouldn’t have handled it quite as well as he did. It gives me some motivation to go out and try to play even better.”
There’s nothing wrong with sportsmanship, and McIlroy and Spieth are wonderful examples. Still, you have to wonder if underneath all the flowery praise is a burning desire to kick the opponent’s derriere off the bluffs of Whistling Straits into Lake Michigan, throw his clubs in after him, and win the girl. Stay tuned.
Jack Ross is a regular contributor to NEGM.
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