James Corrigan: Ready to get up close and personal?

The Last Word
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The Independent Online

Jack Nicklaus shot a buffalo. He lined up the unsuspecting beast in his sights and "click" – the elks, the bears and the quails soon had a new furry friend in the display cabinet.

Great player, great hunter, great guy...Now, some will find killing an animal in the name of enjoyment morally offensive. Just as some will question the ethics of committing serial adultery. Personally, I believe the former to be the more iffy. But there you go. One man's bloody mass of twitching flesh is another man's good day out, I suppose. We must not let what we consider to be personality imperfections colour our sporting judgement.

The pain Nicklaus inflicted with a rifle in his hand bears no relevance to the magic he created with a putter. There was a time when the divide between private and professional lives was accepted and understood by all. So what's changed with Tiger Woods? Seemingly everything.

A week on Monday, the world's golf writers, myself included, will enter the inquisition chamber, otherwise known as the Augusta media room, and be under as much pressure as Woods himself. In fact, we will be under even more pressure. While Woods will be able to repeat over and over "that's a private matter between me and Elin" we will be expected to enquire, over and over, about these private matters. If our interrogation is not vigorous to the point of being excruciatingly intrusive, media-land will label us "not proper journalists".

Already they are saying Woods has decided to re-emerge at the Masters because they only allow "proper golf writers" in and Woods knows that "proper golf writers" won't be anywhere near as keen to know the ins and out of his, ahem, ins and outs as "proper journalists". The cynics are undoubtedly right: most of us won't be. Not because our primary interest is what the scandal will mean to him as a golfer rather than as a husband, a father, an icon, a Buddhist, a human being. But we will see the hypocrisy in the probing becoming too personal, the downright unfairness even.

For generations, champion womanisers, like champion buffalo-killers, have been celebrated in the clubhouses. Golf writers have helped in the celebrating. Even when the heroes themselves have revelled in their roguish behaviour.

There was Walter Hagen, for instance, the player who happens to be third – behind he of the itchy trigger-finger and he of the itchier texting-finger – on the all-time major list. He would often turn up late, swinging into the club car park in a Rolls-Royce still in the night before's tuxedo. On one occasion at the first tee the stuffy starter enquired: "Been practising a few shots have we, Mr Hagen?"

"Nope," he replied. "Downing a few." Such yarns furnish the folklore of the pro who proved golf could be fun. But then, so do the tales of what his golfing successors are now prone to refer to as "my transgressions". Perhaps the most revealing one comes from the 1919 US Open in Boston. At least Woods more or less managed to keep his profession and "transgressions" separate. It was on the 16th tee during the final round where Hagen spotted an attractive blonde. By the 18th tee the married man with young child had arranged a date. While Mike Brady, his opponent for the 18-hole play-off, headed straight for bed, Hagen had other plans. "We partied all night," he was to recall without a moment's shame. "Champagne, a pretty girl and no sleep." He was in no fit shape the next day to produce his best. "Playing was not my only problem," he said. "I had a darned difficult time staying awake." The good ol' Haig still managed to prevail by a stroke.

A few decades later came Arnold Palmer. Before her death in 1999, Arnie had been with Winnie for almost 50 years. But there were allegations and one came from a close friend. Bob Rosburg would share rooms with Palmer in their early days on the circuit and claimed to have once received a call in their hotel at 2am. It was a man asking if Palmer was there.

"No, he isn't," said Rosburg.

"I damn well know he isn't," came the furious voice down the line, "because he's out with my wife. So tell him when he comes back I'm going to come over there and kill him."

"Before you do that," replied Rosburg, "can I just say my bed is the one by the window."

Rosburg recalled this incident in a magazine interview in the late Eighties and wished he hadn't. "It did disturb Arnie quite a bit that it came out," Rosburg was later to explain. "I shouldn't have said it. It was true, but when Winnie saw it I think it hurt her. You know, the women loved Arnie and he's the same as the rest of us."

That's how it used to be in golf. The glory was reported, the grotty went unsaid. And if was said, it was the messenger who was in the wrong. Woods and his fire hydrant changed all that. His planet has been dramatically reshaped and so, in many respects, has that of the golf writers.

Was that inevitable? Have we, like Tiger, had it way too cosy for way too long? This is the accusation which will ring out when we eventually revert to our golfing questions. Dare I ask him what he thinks about the alterations on the 11th? Then again, even that will probably be "a private matter between me and Elin".

Surely Giggs heard the SOS

Ryan Giggs yesterday clarified what he had told a Welsh newspaper by saying he would only play again for his country in "an emergency". Wales have not qualified for the finals of a major tournament in 52 years; have finished fifth of six, fifth of seven and fourth of six is their last three qualifying campaigns; are way below Burkina Faso and Bahrain in the Fifa World Rankings; and have just lost their best player, Aaron Ramsey, to a sickeningly bad injury. Believe it, Ryan, this is an emergency. What are you waiting for? Swine flu to kick in?