The Open 2015: Despite the pomp, golf isn’t quite as elitist as Gary Lineker thinks

There is no other sport which tests mental strength and physical ability to the same extent

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The Independent Online

The late Robin Williams once described golf as “the only sport where white men can dress up like black pimps and get away with it”. Golf is indeed something of an esoteric pastime with a rather eccentric dress code, but for four days every year it occupies a more central role in the nation’s sporting calendar. The Open Championship, taking place at the sport’s ancestral home in St Andrews as I write, is a captivating, singular and colourful event – and not just for the diamond sweaters and checked trousers.

I am biased, because I have a deep passion for golf. I think there is no other sport which tests mental strength and physical ability to quite the same extent. Golf is a game of fine calibrations, whether it is a 300-yard drive or a two-foot putt, but it is often said that the most important distance in golf is the nine inches between a player’s ears.

There are very few pressures in sport which can compare with that of standing over a putt of three feet knowing that successful completion of this straightforward mechanical act represents the difference between glorious success and abject failure. The 155-year history of The Open is full of players whose nerve didn’t quite stand up to this challenge.

Golf is also a game stamped with discipline and courtesy, and, over the next few days in Scotland, you will see players performing at the highest level, under the most intense competition and with huge amounts of money at stake, and yet they will be unfailingly sporting, gracious and polite to each and every one of their rivals. As a game it has no equals. As a sport, however, it still has an image problem.

Golf has made significant strides to become a more inclusive sport, yet there is still a sense that it is the preserve of an elite, ruled by people who would like to keep it that way.

The latest sporting figure to point this elitism out is Gary Lineker, the once-keen golfer who hosted the Open coverage for the BBC. Yesterday Mr Lineker said that he, a mere footballer, was never accepted as a frontman by the sport’s governing body, the Royal and Ancient (the clue’s in the name, Gary).

“They live in a world where it seems they are superior beings,” he said of the R&A officials. “I felt that pomposity when I got the job.”

The former England striker appears to be waging a one-man war against self-important sporting institutions. He described Wimbledon as “England at its pompous worst” for turning Lewis Hamilton away from the Royal Box because he wasn’t wearing a tie. No doubt the ethos which is responsible for the admirable discipline in the sport can also bring with it a less welcome authoritarianism.

This is true at many golf clubs, from the R&A down. But sometimes men such as Gary and I perceive prejudice when there is none. Years ago I applied to join a golf club fearing that, when they found out I was Jewish, I’d be barred. They asked me for an interview. “Come and meet our captain,” they said. “Just ask for Mr Cohen...” I got in, by the way.