Cowboys don’t cry

2009-02-06 00:00

AS those of you familiar with this column may remember, one of my son-in-laws (I have three and they are all huge) is the self-appointed commander-in-chief of Ernie’s UK army. The boy is honest enough to admit that these days the numbers are more like those of a ravaged platoon than an army in mint condition. Recruitment is at a standstill, desertions have been rife and the few that remain are in a permanent state of mutiny.

The boy’s faith in the Big Easy, however, is undiminished. Nothing I say can persuade him that any bet on Ernie for a major championship of less than 33 to one is poor value. I have even thought about offering him similar odds against Ernie ever winning another major, but with my luck it might be difficult to collect before I am called upon to hand in my own card for the last time.

Any normal character would have resigned his commission when Ernie dumped two approaches in the water in front of the 18th hole at Leopard Creek to throw away the 2007 Dunhill Championship. That was the time for the boy to lose all hope, but to his credit his belief is made of sterner stuff and a year after that disaster, his faith has been rewarded in a most unlikely manner.

Late last year, he received an invitation from a business associate to play in the Ernie Els Invitational that was held in the Cape just before Christmas. Given the chance to spend a few hours of the festive season with the one he truly loves, he readily accepted to play in the four-ball alliance competition that mixes professional golfers with the great and good of South African society.

Under glowering skies, he arrived at the course to find his four-ball included Darren Clarke. His anticipation at playing with the great Irishman was somewhat dimmed when Clarke pitched up on the first tee saying he had not got to bed after the previous evening’s festivities.

With rain beginning to fall, play got under way and Clarke immediately stiffed a nine iron six inches from the cup at the first hole. The boy himself drained a lengthy putt on the second to put the alliance two under par. The third was parred in pouring rain whereupon play was abandoned.

The organisers were then left with very little golf played and a whole heap of prizes to distribute.

It was decided to reduce the competition to three holes and the Clarke four-ball were declared winners, each of them walking off with a brand new set of the latest smart flex-shafted Callaway irons.

“Smart flex” means that the shaft adjusts itself to the tempo of one’s swing. It sounds like a bit of nonsense to me, but the boy was delighted with his prize and proceeded thereafter to use these fancy irons to good effect at the expense of Nick Mallett and myself. It must be said, however, that there is still some dispute about a questionable drop that proved crucial to the final outcome.

When it comes to poor losers I definitely belong in the bottom (or is it the top?) quartile and Nick Mallet is not far behind (or is it above?) me, but we took it like men, which means that, although we are still complaining bitterly about the dubious drop, we did not weep.

Unlike everyone’s favourite tennis player who wept uncontrollably at the prize-giving of the Australian Open. Like many of you, I thought Federer had been overcome by the warmth of the crowd’s outpouring of affection for him. It seemed perfectly natural for him to have been moved by this display of mass emotion during what were clearly difficult moments for him.

But the truth, revealed later by Federer himself in a press interview, is that he wept because he had lost! Good grief! Champion sportsmen do not bawl their eyes out when they lose!

Ernie did not cry when he imploded at Leopard Creek. He looked a bit shaken, but tears there were none. Greg Norman had every reason to weep after his infamous collapse at Augusta, but he looked Nick Faldo in the eye, shook his hand, submitted to a lengthy hug and walked off the course with dry eyes.

Can you imagine Ricky Ponting crying after losing to South Africa? The Australian public and media would never forgive him. Kim Hughes is still regarded as a loser for weeping when he lost the Australian captaincy.

“Cowboys don’t cry” is the ancient call that has long driven sportsmen. We do not want our heroes to lose, but when they do, we want them to be gracious and manly. It is one thing to play poorly and lose, but when you have given your all and lost, as Federer did on Sunday, there is every reason to stand tall and proud, particularly when you have won as many major titles as he has done. That there should have been a feeling of loss is understandable, but not so deep that it led to a tearful breaking of emotion that left Nadal looking bemused and empty.

Federer, being who he is and with all that he has accomplished, will get away with it this once, but please, Roger, take your future defeats like a man. After all there are plenty more waiting for you.

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