James Corrigan: Honest Howell is way ahead of blog standard
Where would we be without knowing which dance-track Rio is listening to while at the jeweller's?
There was a period in the history of mankind, some time between the dotcom bubble and the advent of Twitter, when every sporting personality worthy of their marketing coterie was entering the blogosphere.
Here was their chance to bypass that evil race of trolls known as journalists and tell the public what the personalities, themselves, wanted them to hear. It promised to be PR heaven, a land where the platitudes would roam free, where the positives would spring forth from the luscious fields of idealised images, bordered by lucrative sponsors' endorsements.
And the negativity, all the off-field antics, all the mercenary transfer dealings, indeed anything private at all? Well, what right has the sporting fan to know any of this and how could it possibly benefit the sporting celebrity by revealing any of this? No, the insight would remain controlled, the interesting titbits would have all the flavour of the canapés at the Vegan Ball.
Alas, the nature of these blogs contained the seeds of their own destruction. "You can tell a person's personality from the words they use," so said Tal Yarkoni, a psychologist who completed exhaustive research into blogs. But what can you tell from the words their media manager uses? Absolutely nothing. Every sporting celebrity came across as boring, dull and corporate.
Thus, nobody read the blogs and those that did were instantly put off genuinely interesting people such as, erm, Jonny Wilkinson. So off the sporting celebrities trotted to a new Promised Land called Twitterdom. There they could dash off endless reams of guff and dress this up as a wonderful connection with the supporters. Where would be without knowing which dance-track Rio Ferdinand is listening to while he waits at the jeweller's?
At least one sportsman did not join the exodus to 140 characters. The golfer David Howell took to blogging like a duckhook to water. He penned his blogs himself, relegating his PR man to the role of sub-editor, but with the edict that he only insert the commas, unsplit the infinitives and on no account apply the Tippex treatment. With a collection of witty missives, crammed with self-deprecation and anecdotes, it was a genuine portal to the life of a professional golfer. And as the Swindon swinger – to use a nickname which, other than in certain cul-de-sacs in Haydon Wick, never quite caught on – rose to the heights of world No 7, his readers could ride the emotions of his glory. Think Tiger Woods, but as a human being.
It didn't last long. Howell embarked on one of those nose-pinching slumps which only golf seems to produce. Within a year he was out of the world's top 100 and, within another couple, out of the world's top 300. Inevitably the blogs dried up, for as Howell, himself, pointed out "there's only so many ways you can describe 'teed off Thursday, went home Friday'." But when they did arrive in our inbox they were gems.
Take this entry from the Dubai Desert Classic, where his long-suffering caddie pleaded with him not to take on a shot over water on the final hole. "He stood in front of the ball for two minutes, telling me not to waste a shot," recalled Howell. "Saying I cannot reach is like a red rag to a bull. So I pulled out the three wood, told him in no uncertain terms to get out of my way, hit the thing as hard as I could and watched in delight as it landed 36 inches over the water and trickled to within 30 feet of the pin.
"I then gently threw the three-wood 15 yards back down the fairway so he would have to fetch it as punishment. Sometimes you have to remember this is just a game, it's supposed to be fun and sometimes, even though the odds are against you, the challenge just has to be taken on."
The challenge hasn't gotten much easier for Howell in golfing terms. Yesterday he was down the pack at the Portuguese Masters, earning the few euros he needed to retain his European Tour playing privileges. Yet, a few things have altered in his life, a few things which will affect him for ever, and last week in the finest blog of his or any other sportsmen's career, Howell described these life-changers with beautiful poignancy.
First came the usual pops at his faltering game, and luck, as his caddie left him "for an older man" – Darren Clarke a couple of weeks before he won the Open.
And then followed this bombshell. "Sally Pearce, my wonderful thoughtful caring mother passed away. Having had pancreatic cancer for two years she finally lost her battle quicker than any of us imagined. Like all families, ours will never be the same.
"It's hard to move on from that last paragraph with anything positive, but that is exactly how life is sometimes and you have to try to find good things to focus on. My mum herself was adamant about that. The last words I was able to say to my Mum were that Emily and I are due to be parents..."
I urge you to read the entire blog at www.davidhowellgolf.com. It will make you laugh, cry and ponder. It is a uniquely honest account and will remain so. If there were more of his ilk, sport would provide an infinitely more pleasurable spectacle.
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