When Montgomerie's lead slipped away he revealed again the petulance that may well prevent him from winning a major

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The Independent Online
A complaint put forward frequently by sports performers is that they are called to account across the airways and in newspapers by people who, in the main, have never experienced the trials of top class competition.

How can we know fully the frustration of missing crucial putts in a major championship, dodgy line calls, questionable decisions by referees and umpires? What do we know really about the disturbing effect of ill-mannered spectators, of putting up with snarling obscenities?

Of course, individual temperament comes into this, which reminds me that an opinion held here too long to be lightly dismissed is that our genes have a lot to answer for.

When Colin Montgomerie's handy lead slipped away during the second round of last week's US Open golf championship he revealed again the petulance that may well prevent him from winning a major.

Television pictures of Montgomerie calling out angrily to the galleries, fixing greenside audiences with a withering stare, remonstrating with cameramen and hurling his torn off glove aside after one marginal error again suggested that if his game is in pretty good order there is room for an advance in comportment.

Pressure, you may agree, is going home to a cardboard box, housing benefit, fruitless attendance at the job centre. You may also concur with the widespread view that sporting heroes who don't have to worry over where the next Porsche is coming from cannot expect much in the way of sympathy.

People who devote their lives to children's games are often so infantile in their approach to the world that you steer clear of their company. I am reminded here of the famed golfer, a much travelled man of considerable means who was asked over dinner one night how he felt about the US decision to drop bombs on Libya. Clearly elsewhere at the time, he replied, "I think the 12th at Augusta National is just about the toughest par-three in the game."

However, there is another side to all this. Sporting heroes are not required to light up a room with conversation and we have to ask ourselves how much they should be prepared to take from the audience. When Eric Cantona leaped into the crowd at Selhurst Park to sort out an abusive Crystal Palace supporter a case was made for him in some quarters, but there was no earthly excuse for a violent outburst that almost put paid to his career in English football.

It isn't often that I can be accused of standing up for the overpaid and over-exposed but what is the limit of obligation to the good name of a game and its traditions? Can temperamental behaviour be improved upon? Would Montgomerie be as much of a great golfer if he suppressed his emotions? Ernie Els, who eventually finished a shot in front to win his second US Open, provided an interesting comparison. The South African looked ice cool and played accordingly. But that is his nature.

It was in the nature of Nobby Stiles to rage against injustice. The toothless, cavorting symbol of England's World Cup victory in 1966, his place was at risk until Alf Ramsey accepted that he had not deliberately fouled a Frenchman. In the very next match, the infamous quarter-final against Argentina that saw their captain, Rattin, sent off, Stiles was spat upon. Seeing this, Ramsey lowered his head. When Ramsey looked up Stiles was yards from the incident wiping away the spittle. "It was one of the best moments I've known in football," England's manager said.

With Wimbledon's annual fuzz ball festival almost upon us, doubtless there will soon be fresh examples of irritating behaviour. Not quite in the McEnroe-Jimmy Connors class but enough to be going on with. If so the chances are that a lot of people will merely glance at the headlines, ask themselves what is unusual about that, and go on to read about prospects for the next football season.

As for Montgomerie, impulse and emotion are the burdens he has to live with. When he is pleased on a golf course he smiles; in a tantrum he scowls and acts as though the gods are conspiring against him. In his better moods Montgomerie can be charming and accommodating. But that's life and like the rest of us he's stuck with it.

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