IT SHOULD have been a joyous occasion. Instead, the European Tour’s 1,500th tournament is set to be remembered as one that brought unnecessary controversy to the Wentworth-based organisation.
Whoever made the ultimate call to resume play in the Madeira Islands Open on Sunday following the death out on the course of a caddie, Iain McGregor, got it badly wrong and, in doing so, has tarnished the Tour’s reputation.
Was judgment clouded by the frustration of seeing an event so badly hit by weather delays that the first round started on Thursday and didn’t finish until Sunday morning, forcing it to be decided over just 36 holes?
Perhaps so. But that is no excuse for making a decision that has provoked a mood of widespread disgust among players and caddies, the majority of whom had known McGregor, better known as “Zim Mac” due to the fact he was originally from Zimbabwe, for a number of years.
Almost exactly a year ago, during a Scottish Premiership match between Kilmarnock and Hibernian at Rugby Park, a supporter of the home team collapsed with a heart attack early in the second-half. As paramedics tried to save him, the game was stopped and subsequently abandoned.
It was the mark of respect the man deserved but, sadly, that was not afforded to McGregor, who was carrying Alastair Forsyth’s bag when he collapsed on the ninth fairway at Clube de Golf do Santo da Serra. Forsyth won there in the same event in 2008, but will now be haunted every time he returns.
Was he right to go back out and finish his round after the decision was made to resume play? Probably not and he will realise that now, no doubt. But give the guy a break. His face is etched with anguish on photographs that were taken as he tried to revive McGregor then summon help as he realised the severity of the situation.
“Everybody is in shock,” said Forsyth in a statement issued by the European Tour. “To see that happen to someone in front of your eyes – I don’t know how or when you get over that.
“Myself and playing partners Adam [Gee] and Tano [Goya] met tournament officials and spoke to [European Tour chief executive] George O’Grady on the phone before taking the decision to play on, because we felt that was what Mac would have wanted.
“He was a guy I’ve known for 15 years and was very popular amongst the caddies. Obviously my thoughts go out to his family at this time. For something like this to happen so suddenly is so sad.
“He was far too young for this to happen. He was the life and soul of the caddies’ lounge and a nice guy who will be sorely missed. I’m absolutely numb.”
That numbness will be tangible when the Tour caravan moves on to Girona for this week’s Spanish Open, where it is imperative that McGregor’s passing is marked in a fit and proper way, albeit belatedly.
The Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, is now just over a week away and, after what happened in that 12 months ago, the last thing O’Grady needed was flak being aimed at him and his staff.
Personally, I reckon the Northern Irishman was harshly treated over a slip of the tongue – he described black people as “coloured” – during the Sergio Garcia racism storm that well and truly overshadowed that event, but not this time.
It was his job to tell the officials on site in Madeira to either abandon the event altogether – and, for once, they could have split the prize money among all those who had made the cut – or, alternatively, finish the tournament yesterday.
The former would have been the sensible option and I would be saying that whether it was the Madeira Islands Open, a co-sanctioned event with one of the smallest pots on the European Tour, or the PGA Championship with all its glitz, glamour and big money.
It is wrong that certain people seem to have the knives out for O’Grady, a personable man, on the back of “Garcia-gate” and, viewing matters from the home of golf’s perspective, he has been heavily involved in securing a strong and exciting future for the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.
Organisations like the European Tour, however, should know better than to make decisions such as this, one that is likely to leave a bitter taste in the game way past McGregor, one of the most popular caddies in golf, being laid to rest.