Relief is a free drop, not a 60-second breather between rounds. You keep all your teeth and your nose does not get rearranged

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The Independent Online
Urban sports philosophers could deposit their decaying flesh and strained eyeballs in any number of places last weekend.

Late on Saturday, put out simultaneously by Rupert Murdoch's satellite television system there was the third round of the US Open golf championship at Shinnecock hills and from Cardiff, a contest between the Mexican holder, Alberto Jimenez and Robbie Regan of Wales for the World Boxing Organisation flyweight title.

Regan's bruised, bloodied and distressed face when retired sensibly by his manager after gallantly going nine hard rounds against a much superior opponent put into perspective the strain conveyed by the grimaces of expensively attired sporting millionaires as they made their way around a tricky course.

Switching between a sport (boxing should never be referred to as a game) 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 prison camp to a health farm.

Speaking personally, 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 doesn't need a gumshield, shin pads, a scrum-cap or yards of sticking plaster. No one has ever seen a golfer carried off the field. No cut men are needed at ringside. You bleed where nobody can see 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 shines, the birds sing and a hired hand carries the equipment. You are not washed up at an age when people are beginning to make their way in other fields. It takes considerable persistence and no small amount of dedication but players in their 50s have won on the regular tour.

Footballers run the risk of shattered limbs, severed ligaments and crippling arthritis. In rugby there is the prospect of a separated shoulder and having your faced 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 radio and television commentators are no worse than toddlers take in the playground. Tragedy is a bad line-call. Every so often there is time for a picnic.

You can be ranked one hundred and something in tennis and make more annually than a cabinet minister. Some of the leading money winners in golf have 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 neuro-surgeon. A grim day at the office is losing in straight sets or failing to make the cut.

As a famed American sportswriter, Jim Murray put it, the parent who gives his child a football, boxing gloves, an ice hockey stick should be taken into psychiatry. Give golf clubs, a tennis racket and you lengthen the odds against hospital visits.

An old friend, Derek Palmer, a south Londoner who has lived in California for many years, boxed professionally in the lightweight division. As an amateur he fought on the same team as Henry Cooper. Now he can barely bring himself to watch the sport on television. "It's madness," he said. "Can't believe that I was so keen to take it up." Cooper developed a passion for golf. Derek took up tennis. At 62 he plays almost every day.

This tells us something about sport that commentators and critics seldom go into. The best advice, and allowing for social problems, is that a gift for sport should be directed at games that are comparatively gentle. Who needs to look like Robbie Regan did last Saturday?

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