Martin Dempster: Golf can rebound from a bad week

Sergio Garcia's remarks had golf in the headlines - for all the wrong reasons. Picture: Getty
Sergio Garcia's remarks had golf in the headlines - for all the wrong reasons. Picture: Getty
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ALL that was missing was one of the big-name halfway casualties – world No2 Rory McIlroy or back-to-back winner Luke Donald would have done perfectly – lying on the locker-room floor in the plush Wentworth clubhouse covered in £50 notes, á la the mindless Phil Bardsley, before making their exits to the Champions League final, Monaco Grand Prix or wherever.

From start to finish, last week’s BMW PGA Championship certainly wasn’t dull and one suspects it will prove a headache for the European Tour’s hierarchy for some considerable time. From what I’m led to believe, BMW’s sensitivity about negative publicity surrounding the Tour’s flagship event over the years had led to the sponsor asking for a traditional players’ meeting to be moved away from last week. It was, yet all hell still broke loose in normally-tranquil suburbian Surrey.

Working through the events chronologically, it started, of course, with Sergio Garcia’s perceived racism remark aimed at Tiger Woods during the Players’ Dinner, a glittering bash at a Heathrow hotel that was supposed to be a celebration of last year’s “Miracle at Medinah” but ended up doing a lot more damage in one fell swoop than that aforementioned committee meeting ever did.

Garcia was a fool allowing himself to be caught off guard by a question that prompted his “fried chicken” comment and he has to live with the consequences of that. He was stupid to allow a spat out of nothing, really, to escalate, and has ended up being bitten on the backside. The British galleries may have been forgiving but he is surely set for a hot 
reception in his next outing, the US Open at Merion, as he has never exactly been everyone’s jug of Sangria over there.

Should Garcia have been allowed to play at Wentworth? That’s debatable and, perhaps in hindsight, European Tour chief executive George O’Grady regrets that he did not take some sort of action against the Spaniard. Not that O’Grady deserved the flak he was then forced to take when, in a genuine slip of the tongue, he used the word “coloured” in trying to defend Garcia.

O’Grady is a good man. An intelligent one, too. It was shocking that he was dubbed a “bungling blazer” in one newspaper the following day, when it became abundantly clear that the event, the fifth major in the eyes of European Tour players, had merely become a sideshow in some media outlets. One English newspaper, for example, carried a two-page spread from Wentworth on Friday yet the tournament, involving 11 members of that winning European team in Chicago, only merited ten lines.

By Saturday and Sunday, the columnists were rolling out that old chesnut, “golf has its head buried in the sand”. Part of the problem is that there are people out there desperate to see the sport embroiled in all sorts of controversies. They want golf to be exposed as a drug-infested sport. They want single-sex clubs burned to the ground. They want the belly putter brigade to be filing law suits against the R&A and USGA over an achoring ban.

Golf isn’t perfect. Far from it, in fact. Yet, despite all the controversy in the backdrop, last week’s event proved the game, from a spectator point of view at least, is as popular as it ever was. For the first time in its illustrious history, the total attendance for the PGA Championship broke the 100,000 barrier. What made Saturday and Sunday attendances of around 25,000 each day even more remarkable was that McIlroy and Donald had made their exits by then as well as three of their Ryder Cup team-mates – Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and Paul Lawrie.

It was a week that ended with Matteo Manassero becoming the youngest-ever PGA champion, the 20-year-old Italian claiming that honour by 60 days from Bernard Gallacher, whose statue sits on the first tee of the famed West Course in recognition of his lengthy stint as Wentworth’s club professional. Sadly, however, it will be remembered for all the wrong reasons and, while it would be truly disastrous, it might not be long before England isn’t a stop at all on the European Tour as the events of last week will hardly have sponsors coming out of the woodwork.

Warren has character to bounce back

YOU could almost hear the knives being sharpened as things started to unravel for Marc Warren in the closing stages of the BMW PGA Championship. Having already let winning opportunities slip from his grasp in the Scottish Open and Spanish Open inside the past year, his bottle will be questioned after it happened again.

For me, Warren has plenty of bottle, which is why I feel confident he can bounce back from his latest disappointment. It takes something special simply to put yourself in a winning position on the European Tour these days and the Scot certainly has that quality.

The one mistake he made on Sunday was probably changing his gameplan on the first extra hole – the new 18th on the West Course. Worried that the two others in the play-off, Matteo Manassero and Simon Khan, would have an advantage using either a 3-wood or driver, he ditched the iron he’d used on that tee all week.

Warren was made to regret that but don’t for one minute expect him to be emotionally scarred by the events of the past ten months or so. He’s a tough cookie who can take comfort from the fact he’s already got two European Tour titles under his belt. He’s getting close to breaking into the world’s top 100 and don’t be surprised if Warren is making a strong challenge for one of those nine automatic spots up for grabs in next year’s Ryder Cup.

In the meantime, here’s something for the hopefuls in next month’s Scottish Challenge at Spey Valley in Aviemore to ponder. In the last three years, that second-tier event featured both Manassero, who hated the cold as he finished outside the top 40 in 2010, and Warren, who missed the cut the following year.