If 'Jakartagate' puts golf's purity on trial, rival sports stand guilty as sin of foul play

Golf's "Jakartagate" affair has brought its central, embattled figure Colin Montgomerie close to tears and many of the rest of us reaching, with not much certainty, for the moral compass. However, in all the confusion of claim and counter-claim - and the bizarre belief of the European Tour's executive director George O'Grady that the most serious consequence has been "enormous disrespect" for the Players' Tournament Committee - an old and infinitely valuable truth comes shining through.

Golf's "Jakartagate" affair has brought its central, embattled figure Colin Montgomerie close to tears and many of the rest of us reaching, with not much certainty, for the moral compass. However, in all the confusion of claim and counter-claim - and the bizarre belief of the European Tour's executive director George O'Grady that the most serious consequence has been "enormous disrespect" for the Players' Tournament Committee - an old and infinitely valuable truth comes shining through.

It is that golf, maybe uniquely, cares about the values of the game it plays.

In the end only Monty will know whether he was guilty of negligence or the game's ultimate sin, cheating, when he dropped his ball in the Indonesian Open, but despite some dark locker-room murmurings, the instinct here is that he cares too much about his standing in the game - and the game itself - to have gone for a fleeting, unfair advantage.

This assumption has been publicly challenged by his fellow professional Gary Evans, who, wrong-headedly or not, has at least had the courage to come into the open. That he is likely to be carpeted by the European Tour seems the ultimate irrelevance, and, as Montgomerie has admitted to being troubled by the incident to the point of handing his winnings over to tsunami relief, it might be that on his part the Solomonesque move would be to disqualify himself and give up his world ranking points.

He could do this while at the same time maintaining his essential innocence on the gravest charge.

That, it seems, would appease the heaviest weight of Evans' criticism, and those who have entertained similar thoughts from the shadows. Certainly, it would enable a line to be drawn under an affair which has carried rather more the flavour of a rumpus in the officers' mess at the time of the Raj instead of a hugely rewarded and minutely scrutinised sport in the 21st century.

Still, beyond any possible pragmatism - which is the more easily urged upon Montgomerie in the light of his impressive battle to rebuild both the foundations of a game that brimmed with quite awesome facility as recently as last autumn's Ryder Cup and his personal life - is the great redemption of the whole business.

It is that, one way or another, the integrity of golf is something to be fought over as ferociously as any issue that might arise in a back alley.

Nick Faldo, in typically bracing fashion, has announced his belief that the controversy has been largely "codswallop". He says he does not believe everything he hears and only half of what he sees.

But then he adds - and returns us to the point - it might not be a bad thing if a specialist disciplinary committee was formed to deal with such incidents. When you hear again of that basic golfing instinct to run the game with the closest attention to the rules of conduct, you can only weep for so much of the rest of sport.

Think of the diving, simulating, theatricals of football - and the absolute absence of a strong word from the players' professional body or the managers, and suddenly you see "Jakartagate" in a new and cleansing light. Consider the cynical pressure applied to the modern cricket umpire by a tide of spurious appeals in a game that used to be thought of as one of manners. Weigh the blindside brutalities of rugby. Remember the warm feelings we had for athletics before the syringe became its most dominant motif. And then there are the caterwaulings and selective outrage of tennis.

So what if golf has got itself into a tangle of controversy over the "Jakartagate" affair, what is the real damage? No doubt it is distressing for Monty, but needlessly so? Hardly. He has admitted to his own troublesome doubts about the incident.

Golf periodically scourges itself on the issue of fair play. Vijay Singh knows that however many major tournaments he wins, he will never outplay the shadow of his banishment and exile following charges of cheating on the Asian Tour.

Back in the Eighties golf was traumautised by the accusations made by Tom Watson against his fellow legend Gary Player, when he accused the South African of detaching a leaf from its roots in a skins game. Player was indignant, but Watson pressed his case, suggesting that it had been provoked by more than the one incident.

It is, we have seen in the latest controversy, a relentless process - one that hurts those in the firing line right down to the bone. Montgomerie made that clear with his emotional response to the onslaught from Evans, which represented a vertiginous dive from the pleasure of a beautifully crafted 66 at Wentworth. Player, Singh, and now Montgomerie have felt the cold chill of moral investigation. The game does not respect reputation in its demand for transparently impeccable behaviour.

At times this can be inconvenient and even, as O'Grady says, disrespectful. Those who think they know Montgomerie might also say it can be violently unfair.

But then who knows who will be in the dock tomorrow and the day after? No one, not even Tiger Woods. Golf, like no other front-line sport, remembers the foundations on which it was built. Trust was at the heart of it. And so it remains.

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