Hear that noise in the background? Why it’s the sound of ferocious tut-tutting. Or is it the echo of furious head-shaking? Perhaps it’s the whoosh of disgusted finger-wagging? Whatever it is, it’s a din of indignation. And it’s being directed at golf.

Over the course of a fairly controversial few days, the Royal & Ancient game has endured the kind of grisly publicity you’d tend to get when a holier-than-thou MP gets caught in a compromising position with a promiscuous contortionist amid the juicy capers of a wild boar shoot in the Carpathians.

If folk weren’t hissing at Sergio Garcia being disqualified from the Saudi International for ‘serious misconduct’ after angrily damaging a series of greens, then they were seething at the European Tour for being in Saudi Arabia in the first instance.

And if the new rules on caddies lining up players got a’body in a desperate fankle again as the game’s custodians eventually rescinded an initial two-shot penalty on Denny McCarthy during the Phoenix Open, then the sight of Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods playing golf with President Trump had great swathes of mouth-frothing observers demanding the abolishment of absolutely everything.

At this rate, the R&A and the USGA will have to dish out protective cod pieces to cushion the many blows golf seems to be taking. As Eddie Pepperell noted on social media, “I think golf needs a fortnight off.” It’s still only February and already there’s been plenty of gristle to chew over.

With his prolonged display of petulance in the Saudi event, short-fused Garcia seemed to leave more damaged greens than a wonky freezer in the aisle of frozen peas and broccoli florets. A number of players in the groups behind complained to officials about the mess Garcia had made, which included a mixture of deliberate scuff marks and a divot hole.

Meanwhile, his fearsome, swiping assault on the bunker which preceded his offensive on the putting surfaces kicked up more sand than Rommel’s panzers.

Garcia is hardly a first offender, of course. From throwing his shoe into the crowd at Wentworth back in 1999 during a fit of peevishness to spitting in the hole at Doral, Garcia has built up a dodgy dossier of eye-opening antics down the years.

His disqualification at the weekend was an embarrassment for a 39-year-old professional. In fact, any golfer would have drooped their heads in shame. This wasn’t just one tantrum on one green. It lingered into the realms of premeditated actions.

A Masters win, a marriage and the onset of fatherhood all seemed to point to a more mature, mellow Garcia. Oh aye? His wife and bairn will be sending him to bed with no supper and he’ll not be allowed to play with his green jacket for a week after this. El Nino by name, El Nino by nature it seems.

His statement in the aftermath read like one from a naughty nipper to a teacher. “I respect the decision of my disqualification. In frustration, I damaged a couple of greens, for which I apologise for, and I have informed my fellow players it will never happen again.”

According to reports, there will be no further punishment for Garcia and a slap on the wrists will suffice after his whimpering apology. It would have been interesting, though, had a rank and file campaigner of modest standing behaved similarly? The European Tour probably would’ve thrown the book at him amid pious preachings about protecting the game’s integrity.

But there are plenty of cases when golf seems to adopt a one rule for some, another rule for others approach, particularly on matters involving slow play and marquee names.

Given the European Tour top brass were on shaky territory with a contentious venture to Saudi Arabia, they were hardly perched on the moral high ground to start with. A week which was not showered by glowing news coverage could have done without the added furore of Garcia’s antics, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that Keith Pelley, the circuit’s chief executive, adopted a limp “let’s move on” policy.

The hardline discipline of a ban and a sizeable fine would have been a more appropriate punishment, however. Then again, the damage to Garcia’s own reputation is quite a hefty price to pay …


IT’S not all bad news. The Vic Open, a co-sanctioned event involving the men’s and women’s tours, takes place in Australia this week. With gender pay gaps and equal opportunities to the fore across all walks of working life, the latest tour stop sees men and women play the same course at the same time for the same prize money.

While it’s a shame the event has now been lost from the Ladies European Tour schedule - the LPGA Tour took over the reins - it remains a tournament which showcases golf in an all-inclusive, progressive light. More of the same would be warmly welcomed.