Golf is a strange sport.
It is a First World, well-heeled pastime that has a professional arm to it that really struggles in adjusting to the world as a whole. So perhaps it is not golf itself that is strange, but the PGA Tour certainly is.
The spat between Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods over the last week has highlighted the racist undercurrents that continue to trouble the sport.
So woods and Garcia don’t like each other. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact it is refreshing to see normal emotions like that in a sport that can give the impression of being invaded by robots with their accompanying Stepford Wives.
The issue that has caused all the controversy was the “fried chicken” comment. Remember that this was Tiger Woods he was mocking. There are at least 100 pretty effective sledges you could toss in Tiger’s direction without even thinking about a racial slur. And it was a racial slur; the history of that reference is that fried chicken is not just a common dish for Afro-Americans, but poor ones at that. What kind of mentality would drive such a reference?
If he was prepared to make a comment like that to a room full of journalists you do have to wonder what he says behind closed doors.
Tiger would have thought that golf might have adjusted to the 21st century by now, but apparently not. As a 14 year old in 1990 Woods said “I can always feel it, I can always sense it. People staring at you and thinking: ‘You shouldn’t be here.'”
He first encountered the fried chicken comment from Fuzzy Zoeller after winning his first major in 1997, and more recently has to put up with New Zealand bag carrier Steve Williams talking about shoving things up a black a-hole.
What made this most recent reference even stranger was that Garcia claimed he was not aware of the Zoeller comment. So he couldn’t use the defence of being ironic.
When Woods made that breakthrough win at Augusta it was hyped up as being a breakthrough victory, taking the game to entire new markets. Since then there has been one other black golfer on the USPGA Tour. He lasted a year. Nothing has really changed; a bubble of white people from privileged backgrounds and appalling fashion sense, often with Roman Numerals after their surnames.
The antiquated ways at Augusta are well-documented. Black players were only allowed to compete at The Masters just before Tiger Woods burst onto the scene. And it took until last year before women were allowed to join the club. One of those women was Condoleezza Rice, who has also had an oil tanker named after her. A special lady indeed.
Yet those who trumpet the sport / pastime, and there are several of those, always wax lyrical about “The Rich Traditions” at the US Masters. Strange.
This Garcia row was dragged out further when European Tour CEO George O’Grady tried to stick up for the Spaniard by saying that “Most of Sergio’s friends happen to be coloured athletes”.
Anyone who has listened to talkback radio knows that when a caller says “Some of my best friends are Maori / Samoan / Chinese” etc, it’s time to change channels. But putting that to one side it’s the use of the word “coloured” that is telling.
It is a world airlifted out of Apartheid Cape Town or Alabama in the days of Rosa Parks. It is a derogatory term historically used by white people to disparage non-whites. That it could slip so casually off the tongue conveys a dislocation from a multi-cultural world.
But this did not seem to bother those from within the Golf Bubble. Possibly the strangest thing about the whole coloured fried chicken saga was that last weekend at Wentworth the biggest cheers from the gallery were for Garcia. That’s a pretty creepy endorsement.
Perhaps we should not be shocked by this. Wentworth lies in the middle of the Surrey stockbroker commuter belt. And the mock castle for a clubhouse is probably a give-away.
This is not isolated though. A recent study in the UK showed that less than 2% of people who play regularly were non-white. This contrasts with 18% in football and over 29% of cricketers, another sport often accused of elitism and crustiness.
These two sports have chequered pasts when dealing with racism but are consciously, if sometimes painfully, addressing the issue.
Golf has yet to admit it has a problem; that would appear to be a long way off.