Sport on TV: You can't see the Woodzzz for the Teletubbies
Sunday 18 July 1999
Nor was it just the adults who had it tough. There was a difficult moment for Britain's toddlers too last week, as they tried to adjust to the unexpected appearance of a fifth Teletubby. There they were, thousands of them, having just waved goodbye to Tinky-Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po when suddenly, a round, colourful figure came plodding back over the top of the hill. Eh-oh, it's Monty, and he's eaten all the Tubby custard. Many of those young minds were probably scarred for life.
Some of the puzzles for grown-ups were just as bewildering. Why does Steve Rider, whose diction is otherwise impeccable, insist on referring to Britain's leading player as Colin Muntgummery?
Then there's Howard Clark, who seems to be doing an impression of John Virgo on valium. Is it for a bet? And will he make it all the way to the final green this evening without, like Alice's dormouse, falling asleep in mid-sentence? If he starts referring to Tiger Woodzzzzzzz, you'll know he's succumbed.
Above all, there is the on-going mystery of why so many golf commentators feel the need to remind us what it is we've been watching for the past six hours. You never hear John Motson remark that David Beckham has just played "an inch-perfect football pass", or Bill McLaren referring to a "crunching rugby tackle". Yet when someone puts a five-iron to eight feet, it is almost inevitable that someone will describe it as "a great golf shot".
Or, in the case of Jerry Pate, a great gaalf shot. Jerry has the worst habit of all, spraying gaalfs all over the place in much the same way that Sergio Garcia did his tee-shots on the opening day. "Now this man," he'll say, "has a great gaalf swing". This seems to imply that the swing in question would be useless for, say, killing rattlesnakes. So far, though, Jerry has kept that to himself.
If you looked very hard, of course, there was some fairway there somewhere, usually whenever Peter Alliss reached for the microphone. As one great player after another vanished into the heavy rough like Stanley setting off in search of Livingstone, his range of sighs, chuckles, groans, ho- hums and a-has was stretched to its sublime limit.
So too were his powers of description. "Here's Jesper Parnevik," Alliss said on Friday, as the Nutter with the Putter strode on to a green with a cotton wool bud in each nostril. "He seems to have two cloves of garlic up his nose today, just to clear his head." What a pro.
There were two schools of thought about Carnoustie's severity, with some observers feeling that it was the ultimate test of a golfer, and others siding with the players, and their complaints that it was unfair. Anyone who watched Under The Sun: Home Running (BBC2) the previous evening, though, would have had little time for the whining of golf's multi-millionaires.
This film should be a point of reference when any professional sportsman complains about anything at all, from the amount of football they have to play, to the state of the pitch at Edgbaston. For that matter, we should all carry a little of it in our hearts, as a reminder that most of life's troubles are really nothing of the sort.
Its subject was four young men from the Dominican Republic, whose only chance of rising from grinding poverty and a life packing bananas is to play baseball well enough to make it to the Major League. "In America," one of them said, "you can earn $116,000 a month. Here, you make $120 a month, and that's not enough to feed even one person."
Nicandro, at 13 the youngest of the four, started the film sitting out practice. He could not play, because his trainers had fallen apart. He was saving for a new pair by shining shoes on the street and, every Friday, working at the local cock fight. Nicandro was employed to finish off and then gut the losers, at 75 cents a time. On a good night, he earns $3.75.
Meanwhile, two brothers from Nicandro's team were trying out for the LA Dodgers' Academy. Both failed. The fourth hopeful, though, got a three- year apprenticeship at $850 a month, plus a signing-on fee of $15,000. Even if he gets no further his life, and that of his family, will be changed forever.
Nicandro eventually got his new shoes, thanks to a generous neighbour. At the end of the film we were told that his coach considers him one of the most promising 13-year-olds he has ever seen. If a pitcher called Nicandro emerges in the Majors in 10 years time, I for one will remember him. In truth, though, it is far more likely that one day I will, without knowing it, eat one of his bananas.
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