Golf used to be about birdies, bogeys and pars. Now we are keeping score of toxic phrases. After Sergio Garcia's culinary racism, the game was once again dealing in statements and apologies following the use of insulting language.
The man charged with leading the professional game in Europe, European Tour chief executive George O'Grady, shot himself in the moral foot while trying to offer palliative care to the shamed Garcia. O'Grady meant well. His intention was to help erase the racist associations that attached to Garcia after the offer of fried chicken made to Tiger Woods. Instead a reference to "coloured athletes", phrasing that fell the wrong side of acceptability a generation ago, dragged him into the moral midden with the golfer.
"We accept all races on the European Tour, we take it very strongly. Most of Sergio's friends happen to be coloured athletes in the United States, he is absolutely abject in his apology and we accepted it," O'Grady said.
There are some who believe the European Tour should have come down harder on Garcia for his racist slip. They argue the Tour is out of step with other sporting bodies, for example football, which imposes a minimum five-match ban for racist offences that will rise to 10-matches from next season, Uefa announced.
O'Grady went on to claim there was no cosiness in the Tour's response to Garcia's crass error or attitude to race and participation in golf. But by then the audience was deafened by the detonation of tasteless terminology. O'Grady committed his sin during a television interview in the early afternoon. The inevitable apology followed, co-inciding with a bad weather suspension in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, as if the day needed the embroidery of thunder and lightning.
"I deeply regret using an inappropriate word in a live interview for Sky Sports for which I unreservedly apologise," he said. Only a heart of stone would feel nil sympathy for O'Grady and the game he oversees. He cares passionately about the sport and growing it across all frontiers irrespective of race and creed, but there is a big wide world out there looking in that sees none of that, only the predominance of white males indulging in privilege.
Statistics tell us that only 2 per cent of participants in golf are black. In this context messaging is even more important. Garcia's unfortunate contribution and now this, reinforces negative perceptions and arms golf's critics with all the ammunition they need.
The Open Championship is just two months away, hosted by an institution, Muirfield, that does not permit women members. You can see where this is going. Administrators and players need to be more switched on to sensitive issues. Golf is not a racist environment but neither is it representative of the multi-cultural world beyond the clubhouse gates – even more reason to mind its moral Ps and Qs.
For those who think the tone of this piece is harsh on O'Grady, here is Paul Kearns, deputy chief executive of Show Racism the Red Card. "Black people prefer to be referred to as black, because historically the term coloured has carried particularly negative connotations, an offensive undertone. Fifty or sixty years ago you could still see signs saying, 'No Irish, no coloureds, and no dogs', and that is exactly the sort of thing we are trying to get away from."
O'Grady was not the only person having a bad day. After moving along nicely at three under par after 12 holes, Rory McIlroy walked on to a classic Wentworth counter-punch, posting five bogeys over the closing six. Two poor tee shots on 13 and 17, a three-putt on 14 and a bit of bad luck on 18 knocked the wind clean out of him.
In defence of the players, this was no weather for golf. To steal from Mark Twain and his observation of summer in San Francisco, there is no autumn in England as cold as spring in Wentworth. McIlroy wore mittens between shots. Luke Donald and Garcia – who hit a level-par 72 – went to the first tee in the afternoon dressed for the ski lift in bobble hats and Gore-Tex.
The leaderboard by then had an unfamiliar look. South African veteran James Kingston led on six under par, one shot clear of Mikko Ilonen. Of the marquee names Matteo Manassero was best placed on three under. Justin Rose did a McIlroy, dropping three shots over the closing two holes for a 72. Graeme McDowell, winner of the World Match Play in Bulgaria last week, followed Rose in with a seven at the last to sit alongside McIlroy on two over.
Donald, aiming for a third successive PGA title, was five over par at the turn and looking just to make the cut.
Garcia was one of the last to finish, with an eagle for a 72, and when told of O'Grady's comments said: "That's unfortunate."