Rising stars must shoulder responsibilities

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 March, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 March, 1999, 12:00am

All too often, today's multi-millionaire professionals forget just how privileged they are.

That's partly because most are too young to appreciate that top touring pros have not always enjoyed the red carpet treatment they now routinely receive.

Indeed, it's a sad indictment of the average pro in America and Europe that they take so much for granted. Sadder still is the fact that it's only a minority who understand the debt of gratitude they owe to Arnold Palmer.

More than two decades before Tiger Woods was born, Palmer was responsible for raising golf's profile and popularity. He did not do it single-handedly. Rather it was in conjunction with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, his two great playing rivals, Mark McCormack, who masterminded his marketing, and television, a relatively new medium in the mid-1950s.

Roared on by Arnie's Army, it was Palmer who drove golf to a new level. A combination of his cavalier shot-making, dashing demeanour and courteous manner all contributed to attracting corporate sponsors, not only to put money into his own pocket, but also the game as a whole.

It was Palmer who played the key role in laying the foundations for making the US PGA Tour the richest in the world.

Throughout his career, Palmer endeared himself to all those with whom he came into either direct or indirect contact.

On and off the course, his behaviour was exemplary. When his temperament was tested by bad breaks or poor shots, he didn't hurl clubs in frustration, or curse out loud. Neither did he ever lose sight of the importance of acknowledging his fans, raising a hand when someone applauded.

Palmer accepted that this was part and parcel of what he did. He never shirked his responsibilities. He consummately played the part of being a role model to impressionable kids, always displaying self-control, sportsmanship and integrity.

It's perhaps a sign of the times that the ideals that Palmer espoused are rarely seen in the upper echelons of the game these days when avarice appears to have taken over.

Unlike Palmer and his contemporaries, the general attitude now is take, take, take. Yes, Palmer, Nicklaus and Player all earned good money from winning tournaments and product endorsements, although the sums they commanded are peanuts compared to what today's pros make. But they also gave a lot back to the game.

As Palmer hosted the Bay Hill Invitational at his Florida residence last week it was inevitable that Arnie would be asked to comment about world number one Woods.

Particularly poignant were his remarks about Woods and how he reacted to hitting a poor tee shot on the final hole of his quarter-final defeat to Jeff Maggert in the inaugural World Matchplay Championship three weeks ago.

'I take some pride in Tiger and his ability,' said Palmer, who offered advice to Woods before he turned pro in 1996 when aged 20. 'That frown, and slamming the club down doesn't do anything for him or for his game. He's got the world in his hands. All he has to do is enjoy it; laugh and enjoy the ability that he has to the fullest.' Of course, Arnie could have gone further. But, typically, he chose not to. Hopefully, the little rap on the knuckles will be sufficient to make Woods stop for a moment and look at himself.

It's true that Woods faces considerably more intrusions into his life than players from Palmer's era. But it's also true that he is handsomely rewarded for the inconveniences.

While Woods is under pressure to win every time he sets out in a tournament, he cannot hide behind that as an excuse when explaining why his demeanour is less than impeccable.

Yes, we want to see emotion and passion in the game. At the same time, however, basic standards of conduct must not be compromised.