Martin Dempster: What’s next after Vijay then the Sawgrass war of words?

Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods fell out during the third round of the Players' Championship at Sawgrass . Picture: Getty
Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods fell out during the third round of the Players' Championship at Sawgrass . Picture: Getty
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THE way things are going golf could be heading for an unusual nomination – alongside the likes of Coronation Street, EastEnders and Emmerdale in the “Soap” category at the next national television awards.

The past week alone has thrown up a couple of storylines that would certainly have juiced up those programmes, firstly as Vijay Singh sued the PGA Tour over his deer antler spray case, then Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia got involved in a war of words during the Players’ Championship.

Coming on the back of Woods, the world No 1, twice being hit with penalties this year over rules infringements and a 14-year-old, Chinese Guan Tianlang, being punished for slow play in the Masters, it makes you wonder if the golfing world is starting to go mad.

What’s going to be next? A 12-year-old playing on the European Tour maybe. But, of course, we’ve seen that already a couple of weeks back. Then what about a strike by the belly putter brigade if the R&A and USGA press ahead with a move to ban anchoring?

Based on recent events, almost nothing would probably now come as a surprise and, if golf ever reaches the stage when it needs some celebrity-style boxing to spice it up, then let’s hope Tiger and Sergio are the men in opposite corners.

It’s no real secret that they’ve never exactly been bosom buddies but their obvious dislike for each other is certainly now out in the open following a dispute sparked by Woods instigating a noise in the crowd as Garcia was playing a shot in the third round at Sawgrass.

Personally, I believe it was much ado about nothing as golfers appear to have selective hearing. The first tee at Augusta National, for instance, is one of the nosiest locations on a golf course due to its close proximity to the giant oak tree, the epicentre of world golf during Masters week, yet no-one seems to be too bothered about that.

Sergio should also remember that he has not exactly been an angel himself on the golf course over the years, two savage attacks on bunker faces in particular having been good reason for his playing partners on those occasions to feel exactly as he did at the weekend.

Not that Woods deserves to be offered too much sympathy. Garcia is quite right, after all, when he says the American is “not the nicest guy on Tour”. Woods has no real interest in anyone other than himself. It’s why, despite all his individual victories, he still never seems totally comfortable in a team environment. It’s a pity the pair didn’t get the chance to go head-to-head in the final round on Sunday, when Woods ended up having the last laugh, not just because he claimed victory but also due to the way Garcia spectacularly blew his chances by plumping two balls in the water at the 17th to run up a quadruple-bogey 7.

In fairness to the Spaniard, he showed maturity in the way he faced up to the disappointment. “That hole has been good to me for the most part (winning a play-off against Paul Goydos in the 2008 Players’),” he reflected. “Today it wasn’t. That’s the way it is. That’s the kind of hole it is. You’ve got to love it for what it is.”

Ever since winning the Amateur Championship at Muirfield in 1998, Garcia has been a loveable type but, like so many of his peers, the 33-year-old simply isn’t in the same league as Woods when it comes to closing out tournaments.

Apart from one horrendous tee shot at the 14th, he treated us to another masterclass in chalking up his fourth win of the season and his 78th in 300 starts on the PGA Tour.

A bunker shot to set up a birdie at the 16th was exquisite. Whereas Garcia got greedy and paid the price, Woods took the smart option at the notorious penultimate hole before hitting two of the finest controlled blows you are ever likely to see up the last. In recording only his second success at Sawgrass, Woods has started his warm-up for next month’s US Open in ominous fashion and, on this side of the Atlantic, 
excitement is certainly building ahead of his visit to
 Muirfield for the Open Championship.

Will the R&A be mischevious enough to pair Woods and Garcia in the opening two rounds in East Lothian? Probably not. So, we’ll just have to hope that next year’s Ryder Cup at Gleneagles throws them together in the last-day singles. Now that really would add to the £145 ticket price that day providing value for money.

Club pros playing part in the battle for survival

According to statistics shown to me by Brian Mair, the enthusiastic new secretary of the PGA in Scotland, the number of courses in the home of golf rose to an all-time high of 579 in 2007 but has now dropped to 541 – one less than the figure ten years ago.

The vast majority of these courses have PGA professionals in residence and, while you often hear rumours of clubs dispensing with such services in a bid to save on operating costs, it appears that such a trend is not sweeping across the country.

“You do hear talk about that, but it’s not happening that often and it’s not something that worries us that much

either as PGA pros are trained to deal with club matters and are actually well placed to take over the running of a club,” noted Alan White, the long-serving professional at Lanark and the PGA in Scotland chairman.

He described the pro’s shop as the “reception area” for golf clubs and, according to Downfield pro Kenny Hutton, the association’s current captain, its 650 members are becoming important to clubs as much for marketing as the other skills they offer.

“One of our biggest roles now is that we are selling

the club to people who come in,” he observed. Based on personal experience, I would definitely say that the PGA of Scotland is a fine band of men and women and, having brought something different to the table, an exciting future could well lie ahead with Mair at the helm as he tries to build on the excellent efforts of his predecessor, Michael MacDougall.