Ken Jones: Little wonder golfers take the rough with the smooth

Urban sports strategists could deposit their decaying flesh and strained eyeballs in any number of places last weekend.

Urban sports strategists could deposit their decaying flesh and strained eyeballs in any number of places last weekend.

On Saturday, on Sky television and following a glut of international football, there were the second and third rounds of the Players Championship from Sawgrass and a recording of the recent super-featherweight contest between Erik Morales and Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas.

Pacquiao's bruised and bloodied face - he fought from the fifth round with a jagged cut over his right eye - put into perspective the strain conveyed by the grimaces of expensively attired sporting millionaires as they made their way around a tricky golf course in adverse weather conditions.

Switching between a sport that carries the threat of permanent disablement, even death, to a sport where just about the worst thing that can happen to you is a ball out of bounds, was culturally shocking. It was like going from a penal institution to a health farm.

Golf is a great game and marvellously faithful to honourable tradition, but it is played at a walk and the most terrifying thing a participant sees is knee-high rough or a downhill putt. He does not need a gumshield, shin pads, a scrum cap or yards of sticking plaster. No one has ever seen a golfer carried off the field. You do not need cutmen, plaster casts, canes or wheelchairs. You bleed where nobody sees it.

A golfer's idea of trauma is a bare lie or a ball buried in wet sand. A catastrophe is a double-bogey; you don't have to run fast, hit hard or take steps to avoid being separated from your senses; relief is a free drop, not a 60-second breather between rounds. You keep all your teeth, your nose doesn't get rearranged.

Playing at the top means going to work in locations that feature in the expensive section of travel brochures. The sun usually shines, the birds sing and a hired hand carries the equipment. You are not washed up at an age when people in corporate fields are still rising. It takes considerable persistence and no small amount of dedication, but players in their 50s have won on the regular Tour. Last week, at 48, Fred Funk became the oldest winner of the Players Championship, finishing comfortably ahead of Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson.

Footballers run the risk of shattered limbs, severed ligaments and, in later life, crippling arthritis. In rugby, there is the prospect of a separated shoulder and having your face used as a doormat. National Hunt jockeys have ended up brain-damaged. Batsmen in cricket wear helmets and body armour for a very good reason. The perils that exist in the ring are overwhelmingly obvious.

Tennis players sweat more than golfers, but their game falls into a similar category. The tumbles on court that draw gasps from commentators are seldom worse than those toddlers take in the playground. Tragedy is a bad line call. Every so often there is time for a picnic. You can be ranked 100 and something in tennis and make more annually than a cabinet minister.

Until his victory in the Masters last year, Mickelson, one of golf's biggest earners, had yet to win a major championship.

All things considered, these are the luckiest people in sport. They seldom require the services of an orthopaedic specialist, never mind a neurosurgeon. A grim day at the office is losing in straight sets or failing to make the cut.

As Jim Murray, once of this life and the Los Angeles Times, once put it, the parent who gives his child a football, boxing gloves or an ice hockey stick should be taken into psychiatric care. Give golf clubs or a tennis racket and you lengthen the odds against hospital visits.

For leading golfers, those who compete on the US and European Tours, the downside is the cumulative effect of pressure.

Four years ago, David Duval was at the top of his game, the Open champion. Now he is so burdened with doubt that it has become painful to watch him progress around a golf course. There is no guarantee that he will break 80. Ian Baker-Finch, now a golf commentator, went into free fall after winning the Open in 1991 at Birkdale. Another Open champion, Bill Rogers, who won at Sandwich in 1981, went in a similar direction and became a club professional. Seve Ballesteros's life, professional and personal, is in such turmoil that he hasn't taken up automatic entry into next week's Masters.

Nevertheless there is something about sport that commentators and critics seldom go into. It seems to me that the best advice, and allowing for social circumstances, is that a gift for sport should be directed at games that are comparatively gentle. Who needs to look like Pacquiao looked last Saturday?

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
News
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
Life and Style
Duchess of Cambridge standswith officials outside of the former wartime spy centre in Bletchley Park
tech
News
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'