Here’s a question for your Christmas quiz: which major championship did Geoff Ogilvy win? No, it’s not a trick question. OK, he might not be the most celebrated golfer in the world, but by his own hand Ogilvy might just have made the most important contribution by an active sportsman to this year’s literary canon. And what he wrote made him champion enough for me.
Ogilvy entered the court of Tiger Woods and shouted “No.” He raised his hand for freedom of speech, not only for the inviolable right of journalists to pass reasoned judgement on sporting gods but of the necessity to do so free from interference and coercion. Using the platform of his column at golfdigest.com Ogilvy went into bat for Brandel Chamblee, a former golfer turned pundit, who questioned Woods’ integrity over a number of controversial rulings in which he was involved this year, alleging that he was cavalier with the rules and likening Woods’ behaviour to his own as a child when he cheated in a maths test.
The cheating bit was a clumsy association and one he later retracted. Ogilvy did not agree with Chamblee’s view. He endorsed Woods’ reputation as an honest golfer but not the way in which Chamblee was hounded by the Woods camp, the way pressure was applied to silence a critic. “I can’t say I agree with what Brandel Chamblee had to say about Tiger. Not completely anyway. His was a pretty strong point of view, one I would hesitate to replicate when talking about anyone, never mind the best player of this generation. I certainly don’t think Tiger is ‘cavalier’ with the rules,” wrote Ogilvy.
“But here’s the thing. The resulting backlash against Brandel was also unfair. While he used language that was, in places, too hyperbolic for my taste, the principle of him being able to share with us his expert assessment is too important to be abused. To my mind, Brandel is one of the best things on Golf Channel. And let’s be clear: he isn’t employed to give us facts; he is there to offer opinion. So he should be allowed to do so. That’s what frustrated me most about this entire affair: the idea that someone in the media should somehow not be able to call it the way he or she sees it. That doesn’t sit well with me.
“Maybe tour players are just too spoiled. Because we are pampered in so many areas of our lives, we perhaps have unrealistic expectations when it comes to the media. In general we’d be better off not being so precious about what appears in print and on screen. Our relationship with the media should be similar to what we have with our parents or closest friends: one where absolute frankness is best for all concerned.
“I like the notion that the press in all its forms exists to hold tour players accountable for their actions. Journalists and broadcasters should not be mere cheerleaders. There’s too much of that in golf right now, to be honest. And not nearly enough untainted honesty. If correspondents do nothing more than claim how great everything is, any semblance of reality is lost.”
Well said that man. It is not just the armed response units that go in when journalists upset someone that must be countered but the oversensitive management executives who minesweep before a question is asked. You would think journalists came armed with guns instead of tape recorders. Members of the fourth estate must submit to greater screening these days than passengers at Heathrow before they are allowed to put a microphone in front of a subject.
Only last week representatives of Mike Tyson asked that a list of five questions be submitted beforehand so Iron Mike would have an idea about the lines of inquiry relating to his autobiography, entitled The Undisputed Truth. No recognition of, or gratitude for, the service provided by a national newspaper helping to flog a few copies. The book lays bare in all its visceral detail the brutal climb from the streets of Brooklyn to the height of infamy; the crime, the drugs, the fights and the nights that followed. How can any question unsettle a figure of Tyson’s sensibilities after he has detailed his proclivities in a book? Five questions? How’s this for starters: Mike, what’s your favourite movie?
Another example of rampant control-freakery came from a football agent demanding copy approval on behalf of his Premier League client before he would consent to an interview, despite the fact that said client was endorsing a popular gaming product. You are right, we could always say no, but curiosity always gets the better of me, the vague hope that there might be something new and interesting waiting to be said by sport’s increasingly beige brotherhood.
And that major win? The 2006 US Open.
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