Golf: Garcia's reminder that winning isn't everything

NO HAPPIER image of sport has reached us for some time than the sunny smile on Sergio Garcia's face as he watched Tiger Woods complete the formality of tapping in to defeat him by one shot in the USPGA Championship.

Garcia's bubbling response to the final act of an implausibly fevered tussle over the closing holes did not put him in a better light than Woods but it served to remind us of how far sport generally has slipped in matters of comportment.

To come that close to a major championship at just 19 years old was a hell of a thing but Garcia did not let disappointment intrude upon his engaging disposition. Before standing alongside Woods's coach, Butch Harman, to watch the last putt drop he kissed his conquerer's mother.

Even in a game as well-mannered as golf this was highly becoming conduct and proof that Garcia was an alert and eager student when the importance of its etiquette was explained to him.

In my eagerness to record this agreeable incident I am thinking about a football manager who was recently complaining that sportswriters play up scandals and ignore news that puts the game in a favourable light. "They have a lot answer for," he said.

Foolishly, an effort was made to explain that this isn't always the case. It was argued that many observers of the sports scene with a genuine respect for the good things in sport are genuinely concerned about abuses and excesses which, they fear, threaten its very existence. It was foolish to attempt this because the manager, a decent type, doesn't want to see any imperfections in the game that affords him a very good living.

Conditioned to the studious pandering of many television commentators and presenters, it is the exception today when anybody in sport concedes that they are not above press criticism and should be grateful for the good things that have happened to them.

If the sense of values of many performers in sport is screwed up then the important question is how it got that way. What standards of behaviour do they have and where did they acquire them?

It is easy to conjure up, impossible not to imagine what an ugly face sport will present in the upcoming millennium unless steps are taken to persuade future generations that there is more to success at games than raking in bundles of money.

Most kids of impressionable age are idealists. If they try to get into a team and make it, they will play as well and as honestly as they can for personal satisfaction and for the good opinion of their team-mates.

Trouble is that the most talented are soon persuaded that they have something for sale, that their skills have a cash value. "You're a mug if you don't take the best offer," the recruiters tell parents again and again.

The same people who hammer home this cynical philosophy are shocked when a higher offer is accepted from elsewhere and contracts aren't honoured. They wonder where the corruption started.

These are different times in sport. Not better but different. Today hardly anyone involved in professional cricket deems it necessary to discourage the verbal intimidation many coaches encourage on the basis that victory makes most things acceptable.

Paltry fines are no deterrent to the prima donnas of tennis, footballers run off at the mouth, managers and coaches abuse officials.

The unblushing pursuit of profit has done sport irreparable harm everywhere and if the press is at fault the culprits are correspondents who take the view that as nothing much can be done to stem the tide of corporate influence we might as well sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

Those of us who are more inclined to rage against the dying of the light are sometimes encouraged to think that sport may eventually comes to its senses.

This may be loose thinking on our part, but in Garcia's exuberant innocence there was hope for the future. Dignity in defeat is one of golf's best traditions. Nevertheless, coming at a time when accusations of greed are being levelled at leading players, the young Spaniard's behaviour was good for the game and a blessing for believers.

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