Spare a thought for Korean pro, Bio Kim, next time you lose your cool on the course
For someone who grew up playing on military golf courses, the sight of a golfer cussing on a golf course, or for that matter throwing a club, is a difficult thing to be non-judgmental about. Call it conditioning if you will, but golf, as it was taught to youngsters in the armed forces, was as much about code of conduct, as it was about skill. You tucked in your polo, polished your shoes and doffed your cap to fellow players. If you were partnered with a less-skilled player then the onus of making him or her comfortable, lay on you. A unique game, which expects players to honestly call penalties upon themselves, golf, was expected to bring out the best in you. When you speak of tradition in golf, then it is precisely these values that are the ones that ought to be preserved (as opposed to, say denim attire being not acceptable). You don’t squabble over strokes, and you certainly don’t hit a ball without yelling ‘fore’ to warn the group ahead.Sadly, this culture is on the wane; golf is no longer the ‘gentle’ game that Jack Nicklaus referred to in his heyday.
There’s a reason that most equipment companies pay top dollar to get the top professionals to play branded clubs: the elite layer of pro golfers are emulated in no small measure by the likes of millions of fans across the world. Right from swing technique to attire, from playing strategy to mannerisms, the shots they hit, or the demeanour they exhibit on the course during televised events, these guys set the benchmark for the golfing world to emulate.
Now I’ll be the first to admit, that it’s a heavy cross to bear, but—given that the top pros make a fantastic living playing golf—it’s a small price to pay. Golf beats us down like no other game on the planet, and the pros have to deal with the kind of angst that most of us would probably not be able to recover from. And that’s really what separates the pros from the amateurs: the ability to recover after getting your teeth knocked in, and keep going without losing your sanity. Some do it better than others: think about Tiger Woods’ ‘game face,’ at the height of his career.
Others are chronic offenders: Sergio Garcia must rank amongst the worst of the lot. The talented Spaniard, by his own standards and obvious promise, has had an underwhelming career. Ask any avid fan and he’ll tell you that Garcia’s volatile temperament and inability to keep a lid on his emotions has been his undoing. Whether it’s taking off and throwing his shoe into the gallery, to throwing his clubs—to his caddy, or into water bodies, Garcia’s tantrums have inspired more memes on the internet than any of his peers. But even by his deplorable standards, the disqualification at the 2019 Saudi Arabia International plumbed a new depth: Garcia was thrown out of the tournament after damaging no less than five greens in one round. Even more remarkably, Garcia was not suspended by the European Tour after issuing yet another apology in which he vowed that “nothing like that will ever happen again”. Keith Pelley, the European Tour chief executive, declared the matter closed.
Contrast that with the fate of Korean pro Bio Kim, who was handed a three-year ban last week by the Korean Tour for a much lesser offense. Kim who played on the PGA Tour in 2011 is the leading money winner on the KPGA and immensely popular amongst his countrymen. In the final round of the DGB Financial Group Volvik Daegu Gyeongbuk Open, just as Kim—leading the event by a stroke—teed off on the 16th hole, a spectator’s cellphone camera went off. Thrown, Kim hit a bad shot, then swung around and made an obscene gesture to show the gallery what he thought of that infringement.
Even though he won the event, Kim found himself at the receiving end a few hours later when the KPGA issued a statement that it was suspending the golfer because Kim had “…damaged the dignity of a golfer with etiquette violation and inappropriate behaviour.”
There’s consensus in the golfing world, at least outside Korea, that the quantum of punishment meted out to Kim is excessive. Not even a televised apology by the hapless pro in which Kim expressed contrition by getting down on his knees and asking for forgiveness made a difference. What I found especially interesting in this unfortunate affair is the verbiage of the statement by the KPGA. It implies that Kim’s actions did not just affect the player’s stock, but damaged ‘the dignity of a golfer,’ implying that Kim had desecrated the spirit of the game. That view, which to us seems a bit extreme in this case, has to do with Korea’s culture where obedience and deference to a model code of social conduct are unassailable values. Kim is not challenging his suspension, and one hopes that he will be let out of the doghouse before the end of his stipulated alienation. It’s hard not to draw parallels between the contrasting fortunes of Garcia and Kim. Had Garcia been born in Korea, he probably wouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near a golf course after his junior days while Kim would have gotten away lightly in Europe. Something to think about the next time golf decides to give us a hard time.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game