Sand-trap tantrum blows Monty's cool to four winds

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The most pampered individuals in sport are golfing superstars. They are coddled, waited on, provided for and fawned over from the first day they break through as exceptional practitioners.

Normally, the biggest decision they have to make off the course is between oysters and smoked salmon as a starter. They live in stockbroker belts, travel first class, stay at five-star hotels and work frequently in sylvan retreats referred to commonly as millionaires' playgrounds.

There are no busted ankles, lacerated brows or ripped cartilages. Trauma is knee-high rough, a downhill putt, a ball plugged in sand, two over par.

Successful golfers go through life with a factor-30 tan, wearing designer clothes picked for them and laid out by style co-ordinators. The pay for simply showing up is often three times what the average wage earner takes home annually. No exact figures are to hand, but show me an outstanding player who is not sitting on a multiple of seven figures and I will show you one who should think seriously about changing his agent.

The fruits of dedication in golf are not begrudged here but pressures of attainment are no excuse for the petulance displayed by Colin Montgomerie last week when his game came apart in a high wind during the final round of the Benson and Hedges International Open.

Finding his ball plugged in a bunker, and by then tumbling down the leaderboard, Montgomerie kicked twice into the sand, incurring a two-shot penalty on the amusing grounds that he had "tested a hazard". This was a cop-out on the part of the authorities, fooling nobody I have since spoken to about the incident.

Next day at the ancient golf club in Kent that agreed curiously to have me as a member, the word "pathetic" was used generally to describe Montgomerie's behaviour. Everyone agreed that it was no sort of example to set aspiring professionals.

Whether Montgomerie's excellence in golf is the result of falling out of bed with a graceful swing or hours of unstinting effort is irrelevant. Either way it does not entitle him to carry on in the manner of a child who has just been told that there are no more sweeties.

Afterwards, it appears, Montgomerie reacted grumpily under interrogation. "Who is Nick Faldo?" he snapped when informed that the Masters champion considered conditions on the day unplayable.

And that is another thing. If Faldo thought the task so tough, how did Stephen Ames manage a level-par 72, to win by a stroke from Jon Robson whose sunny disposition was in marked contrast to Montgomerie's scowling countenance?

By all accounts, Faldo gave up philosophically after concluding that he was not getting anywhere. This was better than throwing a tantrum but of no consolation to spectators who were getting their first glimpse of him live since that great victory last month in Augusta.

It is a matter of individual opinion whether fame puts golfers under obligation to always put in a maximum effort. I would not hazard a guess as to what goes on in their minds but an unavoidable impression is that a number of them today are spoiled rotten.

This column rarely goes off in another direction, but an exception can be made in the case of a television programme put out by BBC 2 last Sunday night to coincide approximately with George Best's 50th birthday.

What I have in mind was the irritating interruption of a phoney debate over a team Best had put together flimsily from notable contemporaries and today's luminaries, players who would not have gelled even with liberal applications of superglue.

Supposed to be taking place in a public house it developed predictably into a load of smart-arsed tosh typical of what now often passes for an understanding of football. "Why did Besty [note the pathetic familiarity] pick him? Because he'd be first to the bar afterwards." That sort of thing.

None of the faces were familiar to me but I'm told some represent that odd phenomenon, alternative humour. The late and much-lamented Les Dawson had a good definition of the genre. He considered it the opposite of funny.