Martin Dempster: Sportsmanship shines through at Masters

Hallelujah! This major is one golf can be proud of, not, like a few instances recently, an event that inflicted self-harm on the sport. The tone was set by Thursday's tasteful tribute to Arnold Palmer in the first Masters to be staged since his death. The '˜King' would have approved of so many things that unfolded thereafter, notably on the last day.

Well done!  Justin Rose congratulates Sergio Garcia after Garcia won on the first playoff hole. Picture: Getty
Well done! Justin Rose congratulates Sergio Garcia after Garcia won on the first playoff hole. Picture: Getty

The sportsmanship shown throughout their thrilling battle, for instance, by Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose. Yes, of course, they are good friends and Ryder Cup team-mates. It would have been easy, though, for that to have been forgotten in the heat of battle, especially with so much at stake.

Not a chance. The pair were a credit to themselves and their sport for the way they handled themselves, on the course as they went toe-to-toe for that Green Jacket and off it as they reflected on their respective outcomes afterwards.

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Just imagine how good it was for the sport for youngsters in particular watching on TV – and, remember, this is the event more than any other in golf that attracts the greatest interest from golfers and non-golfers alike – to witness that final round.

They not only watched sport at its very best – Garcia’s shot into the 15th in particular was out of this world in the circumstances – but were also taught a lesson about how sportsmen and sportswomen should conduct themselves.

It was a blow for Rose when Garcia made that eagle with four holes to go, yet the Englishman waited at the side of the green and effectively said ‘well done’ to his title rival.

As for their embrace after Garcia has won the play-off, that could even have brought a tear or two to a glass eye.

It was one of those contests, in truth, that left you wishing that they could each get a sleeve in this particular Green Jacket. Alas, someone was always going to end up feeling a bit sore and, on this occasion, it was Rose.

He’d been on the other side, of course, in the past. When winning the 2013 US Open, for example, and also when he was thrilled to become golf’s first Olympic men’s champion for more than 100 years.

There was genuine sincerity, though, when Rose talked about how delighted he was for Garcia and, in a later tweet, the runner-up showed, and certainly not for the first time in his career, what a class act he is. “Congrats @TheSergioGarcia,” Rose wrote on the social media site. “Incredible battle out there. Sport in the moment can be tough. But it’s just sport. Hope you guys enjoyed it.”

Oh yes, and it wasn’t just the top two players on the giant Augusta National leaderboards at the end who helped put that smile on golf’s face. After making his hole-in-one at the 16th in the final round, Matt Kuchar gave his golf ball to a young boy in the crowd, admitting afterwards that it had been totally spontaneous, though the fact the kid was wearing a Sam Snead-style hat had caught his eye.

“No, I didn’t know him at all,” said Kuchar afterwards. “I think you see kids of a certain age and you know that a memento will be special to them.

“The cool part of our job is making a kid’s day. And we have an opportunity to do that quite often.

“I don’t save hole-in-one balls, so I figured this would make a kid’s day and make a kid’s year.”

Give the big man a cheer when he’s over here for the Open Championship later this year because that act of generosity, especially at a time when his mind could easily have been all over the shop, was an example of why we should be proud of golf rather than cringing in the fear that it is going to be slaughtered time and time again.