• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

The decision to play on in Madeira will continue to haunt Tour's top brass . . .

The show must go on .

Alastair Forsyth backed the decision to play on in the Madeira Islands Open despite having been at Ian McGregor's side as the caddie died of a suspected heart attack on the course. Picture: Getty Sport
Alastair Forsyth backed the decision to play on in the Madeira Islands Open despite having been at Ian McGregor's side as the caddie died of a suspected heart attack on the course. Picture: Getty Sport

. . but at what point do you bring the curtain down? Flooded greens, the encroaching darkness in the gloaming, the threat of lightning in the sky, balls being blown out of position on the greens by whistling winds?

Golf can be brought to a halt for a variety of reasons when a tournament is in full cry but today, this fine game of honour and honesty, is peering at itself uncomfortably in the mirror and asking a sobering, sombre question. Is it right to keep playing when someone has died on the course?

The untimely passing of Iain McGregor, the Zimbawean caddie who was heaving the bag of Paisley's Alastair Forsyth during the Madeira Islands Open at the weekend, cast a vast, grim shadow over the European Tour's 1500th event and prompted an outpouring of anguish, sympathy and anger.

McGregor collapsed on the ninth fairway with a suspected heart attack and died a short time later. One source who was at the event on the Portuguese archipelago, claimed that it took half an hour for an ambulance to arrive on the scene and there were no on-site medical staff. Following a suspension in play and a discussion, conducted over the phone by European Tour chief executive George O'Grady with the players and caddies involved, the officials resumed the final round of the competition.

Some, including Forsyth, suggested that it was "what Mac would've wanted". Others launched themselves towards social media and lambasted the hierarchy for astonishing insensitivity. Finland's Mikko Illonen wrote: "Call it off now, European Tour. Have some respect please", while Spain's Pablo Larrazabal said: "Can't believe they are going to keep playing in Madeira. Life is more important than golf."

In these times of instant reaction, a storm can be whipped up at the click of a button and many outlets seized upon some of the more passionate statements being relayed. The most opinionated status updates came from those who were not actually there and it can be easy to pass boisterous comment on an incident from a distance.

While you didn't need to be on site to appreciate that the mood would have been overwhelmingly solemn, we can only wonder what players and officials in the midst of it all were thinking at the denouement of a tournament that had been plagued by fog and had turned into a major logistical palaver. No play was possible at all on Thursday and, come Sunday morning, there were still a handful of players who had not even completed their first 18 holes. Spending four days twiddling thumbs and kicking about in a clubhouse hoping for play to get started can mangle the most resolute of minds and cloud the judgement.

The Madeira event is one of the lowest ranking tournaments on the European circuit but, for the vast majority of the field who are battling to gain a foothold on the main tour, it can be a career changer. The likes of Scott Henry, who lost his full card last season and was eventually pipped to the title in a play-off on Sunday night, would have looked at the Madeira Islands Open as a potential tour lifeline.

This is a cut-throat, selfish, individual business where every opportunity has to be seized. The players were sent back out and Henry birdied his last three holes to barge his way into a play-off.

Despite the trauma that had been visited on the championship, the Scot, like many others, showed remarkable strength of character and mental resolve to plough on and do what it is that they do. This is why they are professional golfers, after all, but whether they, or anyone else on location, was thinking rationally at the time is open to debate.

This was a tragic and rare circumstance that called for strong, decisive leadership from the Tour's top brass and the decision to play on should have been taken out of the hands of the numbed players and caddies. Had a competing golfer lost his life on the course instead of a caddie, would a different decision have been taken? Almost certainly, and this opens up the uncomfortable question about the value of one life over another.

In January, the Scottish football match between Morton and Queen of the South was abandoned when a fan died in the stand. Should golf have done the same when somebody actually died on the turf upon which it was being played? That is an issue that an embattled O'Grady will no doubt be confronted with in the next week when the focus is on the European Tour's flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship.

The picture of Forsyth hunched down over the stricken McGregor, in a desperate, bewildered and futile attempt at offering some kind of assistance to his bagman, will remain an enduring, disturbing image of the 2014 season and beyond.

In this period of soul-searching, it will also be an unsettling, harrowing vision seared on the conscience of those in power who decided that the show must go on.

Contextual targeting label: 
Arts and Entertainment

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

233056