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Great Expectorations

Would you believe that a single spitting incident on Dubai’s 12th green has sparked one of the more serious golfing debates of the moment. Namely, whether the professional tours should reconsider their usual policy of keeping disciplinary matters under wraps.

When cameras captured a complete Tiger Woods spitting sequence in this season’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic, the European Tour felt that they had no option but to make a public response. They fined the player and departed from the norm in letting it be known that they had fined him.

Since then, Peter Dawson, the CEO of the R&A, has suggested that every player who steps out of line should be named and shamed.

“There are many good reasons for keeping things quiet,” said Dawson, “but I think it’s possibly something that the tours should look at changing. Personally, I think that putting these things in the public domain has a lot of benefits, especially now that golf is going to be an Olympic sport.”

If only because there is something pretty seamy about the recent spate of super-injunctions being taken out by sportsmen and other celebrities in a bid to keep irregularities in their private lives out of the papers, Dawson’s recommendation should attract no shortage of support. In this correspondent’s eyes at least, such openness would serve as a proverbial breath of fresh air.

George O’Grady, the CEO of the European Tour, is rather more hesitant.

“You are never not going to listen to the R&A,” he began, “but I’m pretty sure that we don’t need to change what we are doing.

“Though we don’t normally broadcast matters to do with discipline, we don’t go out of our way to hide things. If we are asked if a player has been fined, we will not shy away from confirming as much. The only thing we would not reveal is the amount of the fine.

“The Woods scenario,” he clarified, “was such a public affair and the commentator was so ‘into’ it that we felt we had to respond as we did.”

As for Ewen Murray, the Sky commentator in question, his reaction to Dawson’s “name and shame” idea was rather more ambivalent.

“In the case of Woods’ spitting,” Murray said, “I have no doubt that the details of the disciplinary action which applied should have been as public as the crime itself.

“Ten minutes after we had dealt with it on air, I had an e-mail from a viewer saying that he was now faced with the job of having to tell his two young sons that spitting like Woods was not on the agenda.

“People chew tobacco spit it out but Tiger’s spitting is worse in that he does it in a fit of pique. It seems to me that there’s still a lot of anger in his system and it’s his way of reacting to a bad shot.”

Murray also felt that the Thomas Björn-Ian Woosnam altercation of 2006, the one in which Björn was openly critical of Woosnam for leaving him out of his Ryder Cup side, merited the very angry and public admonishment it got.

Equally, though, he believes that there are certain unseemly goings-on that should remain private.

“If, say, you have a row between a couple of players in the locker room, that’s where it should stay,” Murray said. “And if there are words between an official and a player in the scorer’s hut, the same should apply.”

So what would Murray do with those incidents that do not obviously fit into one category or the other?

“You have a committee to deal with such things,” he said. “Let them decide on what should and shouldn’t get out.”

That might be easier said than done …

In many ways, it would have been better if a club-chucking offense – i.e., one that would have resonated around the world – had served as the starting point for Dawson’s observations.

The trouble with spitting is that no one gives a lick as to whether anyone spits in America, with much the same applying in parts of northern India and Pakistan. As for the ancient Greeks, they saw it as a thoroughly useful antidote to witchcraft.

People in the UK are perhaps too squeamish about the habit for their own good – and would do well to remember that there are golfers in the Far East who think that the British have some pretty appalling habits of their own. Notably, blowing their noses on handkerchiefs that have spent the last six or so years in the bottom of their golf bags.

Regardless of what happens next, we can rest assured that certain sections of the press will be on “spit-watch” at this year’s Open at Royal St George’s.

Murray, for one, suspects they will not have to look too far, his feeling being that even if Tiger should desist, the tobacco chewers will carry on regardless. “Perhaps,” he says, “they could be persuaded to spit into a handkerchief.”

Bearing in mind the cosmopolitan nature of the field, it had better be a clean one.


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