As much as he may have wanted to, Steven Tiley did not whinge. He stood there by the side of the 18th green at St Andrews yesterday morning and focused on the disappointment rather than the resentment. It was 8.30am and his working day had already been wrecked just as the multi-millionaires he aims to join twitched on their feathered pillows.
Yes, over at the Old Course Hotel, 800 yards and about £1,000-a-night away from the 27-year-old, the giants of the game awoke. Maybe they did so with a start as they recalled the carnage of the evening; maybe a curse greeted the recollection of the Royal & Ancient's decision to make them play through the high winds. What they did not do was peer out of their window and see the crumpled figure by the recorders' hut; what they did not do was think, "Now there's a poor sod who has every right to moan."
Tiley is an unknown and, in this sport of privilege, pays for being an unknown. The R&A, like all of professional golf's governing bodies, ensures the most hopeless of the no-hopers fill the late spots on the Friday, the spots nobody wants. It's simple why. The greens are roughed up by then and so are the fans. The atmosphere has gone home for the day, come back tomorrow.
These golfing ferrets resemble the cleaners at the Palladium, picking their way through the ice cream wrappers as the band packs up. They are the afterthought, the also-rans, the number-maker-uppers, the boys who are supposed to have been handed a dream pass but instead have been awarded a one-way ticket ever further into obscurity. Never did their status feel any more inferior than at 6.30am yesterday.
That's the other drawback with the rigged golfing draw. Conditions sometimes dictate the Friday-laters coming back a few hours later to finish their rounds in the Saturday dawn. Take Tiley; he was on the 11th when play was called off at 9.45pm. He made the long trek back to the clubhouse, had a little supper in his rented bungalow and went to bed at 11pm. In his words, "I tossed and turned until the alarm went off at 4am." Tiley had every right to be unsettled. He was lying tied third in The Open. Yet his momentum had been checked. Not for an hour, but a night. Suddenly the doubts invaded the space where only process had ruled.
"I just couldn't make a par," he said. "I tried my hardest, but those eight holes were just panic really." That's a fatal golfing mix: exhaustion and anxiety. In two excruciating hours, this damnable brew forced him from six under to one over, from having two players in front of him to 55. At least there was the relief of making the cut and collecting the £2,000 his one and only sponsor had dangled. For when he was up against the wall on the 17th, it seemed the sporting investment of Sports Investments would be safe.
So Tiley trooped in, knowing he would be out again in an hour or so. It was a desperate scenario and he could have screamed, "This isn't fair, when the players who are deemed to have no chance are given less of a chance by being shoved in the dead-man spots". He could have talked about television/sponsorship/entertainment demands cutting in on the essential fairness of a sports tournament; and asked why, if every player really does have the same opportunity, the governing bodies won't hold a genuinely random draw. How can they call it a level playing field? It isn't. So much of the competition is not, as they all say it is, based on luck but on what you have done in your career.
Tiley could have looked at Martin Kaymer's rant in the newspapers and laughed. The German accused the R&A the night previous of favouring the big players. He was dead right. The only thing is, he is one of the favoured. Because of all his titles, he was in a place on the starting sheet which meant it was highly unlikely he would ever be the one to be asked to sacrifice a night's sleep. Perhaps the world No 13 was correct, perhaps the R&A really did wait until Tiger Woods began to see his ball blow around on the green until they sounded the hooter. But Kaymer himself benefits from the golfing pecking order. The only players who truly do not receive any preferential treatment are the ones at the very bottom of the feudal heap.
Yes, Tiley could have said any or all of the above, but he didn't. He merely declared, "I just have to get on with it", and went out and got on with it. Why? Probably because, to use Woods' statement, he does not "feel entitled". He is scrabbling around in the game's nether regions and is not yet used to courtesy cars, fawning five-star treatment, the entourage who tell him to click his fingers and allow the whims to be satisfied. But Tiley is used to bad breaks and doesn't regard them as an affront to his talent; he hasn't yet been fitted with the instinct to look for someone to blame other than himself.
If Tiley cracks the big time, it is likely he will join the pampered and hampered as a man's memory is as short as his ego is fickle. There are honourable exceptions, sporting heroes who continue to notice the minuteness of their image in the bigger picture. But across the profes- sional fields their number are depressingly few. That's why there are so many tales of superstars striking out at the imperfect world, with its imperfect landscape, populated by its imperfect human beings, with their imperfect judgements. As a journalist, long may they continue; as a fan, give it a break. You were all Steven Tiley once.
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