Woosnam's decision bends rules

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 November, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 November, 1995, 12:00am

IAN Woosnam is not likely to be winning any prizes this week for good sportsmanship but his decision to renege on commitments in China should be taken in the context of the game he plays.

If you don't actually play golf, you must certainly know somebody who does. In my own case, I have been thankfully denied the opportunity to bring on heart attacks, pull out the remnants of hair and snarl at the kids because I have never ventured near a golf course with serious intent to play.

If you happen to be left-handed and of an era when clubs for 'wrong way round' players were not readily available, sorties on to the golf course were obviously infrequent.

And looking back, I don't feel I have missed out on too much except, of course, a lot of beneficial exercise.

Golf can be a sport which turns everyday saints into sinners and agreeable people into raging tyrants and where common sense no longer has any bearing on individual behaviour.

Woosnam is at the top of the heap, as they say, but his decision to head back to Britain came at the end of depressing day when his touch deserted him and he ballooned into the 70s.

The Welshman blamed the heat, the humidity and, for all we know, the language, the caddie or the bad bottle of beer from the night before. In that state of mind the thought of a flight to London rather than another possible ordeal in China must have seemed an obvious escape.

Saying that, Woosnam's behaviour did not come as a great surprise.

A number of years ago I was pressed into action to cover the Hong Kong Open golf championship which featured its usual array of quality players from around this region and Australasia.

In a final round preview story, I alluded to the form of the third round leader and suggested that he had a background of 'choking' in the final stretch and, despite a three-stroke lead, was no good thing to win the tournament.

Sadly for the golfer involved - the statute of limitations on identity has not expired - the preview piece was amazingly accurate.

So, too, were the words directed at this writer, leaving him in no doubt that his golf-writing prowess had not been appreciated. The most surprising factor to me was that he'd actually read the piece at all.

Those with longer memories and any interest in total trivia will possibly remember that I have actually swung a club.

In one of those more bizarre schemes dreamed up in unlikely moments by television producers and publicists, it was decreed that I should appear in an ATV promotional slot for upcoming sports shows swinging a golf club.

The sequence was shot not at Fanling but halfway up the Peak and caused much amusement among some of my acquaintances.

Considering that much of my daily toil is taken up with the racing game, it can be safely assumed that a few interesting characters have crossed one's path - particularly when it comes to betting.

In relation to golf, however, when it comes to conniving, ducking, diving and playing slipshod with the truth, some of my more doubtful racing acquaintances, by comparison, could grace the altar on a Sunday morning.

As my learned readers will surely know, in golf it all comes down to playing off a handicap. Not unlike racing, if a player puts in a number of 'dead' runs his handicap will come down.

Then, of course, there is shameless lying.

'What do you play off?' is the query. 'Oh, about 16 on a good day,' comes the reply from a chap who would be on a nine handicap with an eye closed.

Not that I should be one to carp about this. If golf is viewed as a gambling opportunity, I have to confess to taking advantage on a couple of occasions.

While not knowing a nine iron from a steel door, it becomes irrelevant if you are in possession of the information that the chap you are backing has come into the match a good seven pounds/strokes under his right weight/handicap.

Not very sporting? Well, that's what happens in this game. Ask Woosnam.