Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Why Tiger Woods is not always the best

Tiger Woods

Sitting at the trunk of a towering pine tree by Mullingar's 12th green on Sunday, one could hardly have been further removed from the bedlam of Warwick Hills and Tiger's march to his fourth PGA Tour victory in just 11 outings this season, and his 69th in all.

Yet, watching the fine young cannibals of Irish golf parade past and hearing the occasional furious thwack of putter against leather (golf bags), it was impossible not to be struck by the all-pervading influence of Mr Woods on this game.

Yes, cannibals! Many of these hugely-talented teenagers and twenty-somethings were almost eating themselves, such was the all-consuming, Tiger-like intensity of their play at the Mullingar Scratch Cup.

Even a birdie at this mischievous 151-yard par three elicited little more than a tight grin and the barest flick of a wrist in acknowledgement to the polite flutter of applause. Elite amateur golf doesn't look much like fun for so many of these eager young men. It's business.

Minutes earlier, I'd witnessed one player respond to an unsatisfactory drive by taking a furious swipe at his tee peg. The pointed piece of wood hurtled into the white picket fence which at that moment was the only protection a group of spectators were afforded from his petulance.

One middle-aged man quietly bent over the fence and picked up the tee, offering it back to its owner, who missed the significance of this simple, silent gesture as he stomped off down the fairway.

For sure, he'd just double-bogeyed the previous two holes, taking four to get down from the back of the green at one and three-putting from inside five feet at the other. Yet, his reaction to a slightly-pulled tee shot went way over the top.

Frankly, the lust for perfection in an imperfect game is setting too many of these kids at odds with themselves and the world. Of course, there were several notable exceptions. Not least, Niall Kearney, who at age 21 seems remarkably even-tempered and well-equipped to deal with those twin imposters, triumph and adversity.

It is a quality which will stand to the Royal Dublin man when he makes his Walker Cup debut against the US at Merrion next month.

Another who performed impressively under pressure at Mullingar was Dessie Morgan, who shouldered the weight of his club's great expectation of a first local winner in the 47 years of this August event and still managed to enjoy himself. At age 28, Morgan has grasped the significance of playing this game with a grin. Few have mastered the art of smiling in the face of disaster as well as Padraig Harrington, who almost uses it as a form of psychotherapy.

Meanwhile, the most impressive feature of Rory McIlroy's rapid rise into the upper echelons of world golf has been his ability to control a temper which only a few years back could be notoriously quick and fiery.

With so many players of the same age clustered around the top of the leaderboard at elite amateur events these days, mature advice and guidance is in short supply.

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