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Paul Thomas is a Weekend Herald columnist

Paul Thomas: Overlooked insult in golf's clash of the stars

By Paul Thomas

Race-based jibe rebounds on Tiger's foe, but character slur is okay

You'd think it wouldn't be too difficult to occupy the moral high ground in a spat with Tiger Woods.

After all, we're talking about a bloke who, assuming an air of unassailable virtue, assured Murray Deaker that his family "absolutely" came first, days before he was shown to be a compulsive adulterer.

This is a guy who in his interactions with the public exhibits all the spontaneity and breezy charm of those earnest young robots who knock on your door and offer to put you in touch with God, as if they've got him on speaker phone, whose mask slips only when he swears and rages after a shank or slice, whose blinkered single-mindedness makes his close association with Nike a marriage made in Madison Avenue.

This is also a competitor who of late has seemed intent on pushing the boundaries of what constitutes acceptable conduct in a sport that relies heavily on self-policing and prides itself on uncompromising rigour when dealing with breaches of rules, written and unwritten.

All of which meant that Spanish golfer Sergio Garcia was pretty much spoilt for choice in terms of ammunition when it came to firing the next shot in his festering, decade-long feud with Woods.

There was really only one no-go area, one even the dimmest among us are learning to steer clear of - race.

But like Kiwi Steve Williams, Woods' former caddie, Garcia couldn't help going there.

Asked by the compere at the European Tour's annual dinner if he'd be having Woods over for a meal during next month's US Open, Garcia replied, "Yeah, we'll have him around every night. We'll serve fried chicken."

In isolation this amounts to a gratuitous reference to Woods' ethnicity at best, coded racism at worst. But the bigger picture is that on hearing or reading those words, most golfers and golf followers would have thought back to 1997 when Woods won his first Masters.

Asked for his reaction, former champion Fuzzy Zoeller looked ahead to the following year's champions' dinner, the menu for which is chosen by the defending champion, and instructed reporters to tell Woods "not to serve fried chicken or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve".

Like Zoeller and Williams, Garcia's defence was that his remark was an attempt at humour that went horribly wrong: "I understand my answer was totally stupid and out of place. I was caught off guard by what seemed to be a fun question and tried to give a funny answer."

I see no reason to disbelieve him. But what I find interesting is that amid the fuss over the fried chicken comment it was largely overlooked that Garcia had earlier gone out of his way to brand Woods a chronic liar.

Speaking to journalists at a sponsor function outside London, Garcia said, "He called me a whiner. That's probably right. It's also probably the first thing he's told you guys that's true in 15 years. I know what he's like. You guys are finding out."

Etiquette appears to have evolved to a point where making an idiotic off-the-cuff remark about someone's ethnicity is regarded as beyond the pale, so to speak, but to knowingly and sweepingly disparage their character is okay.

It seems you can label someone a worthless human being as long as you don't refer to their skin colour.

I'm not a fan of long works of fiction. There are notable exceptions but many of the 500-plus page novels I've waded through could, in my opinion, have benefited from more assertive editing. If they'd been shorter, they would have been better.

This week a blow was struck for the less is more cause with the announcement that the Man Booker International Prize for achievement in fiction on the world stage has been awarded to American short-story writer Lydia Davis.

When I say short, I mean short. Some of Davis' stories are only a paragraph long. Sometimes a single sentence gets the job done.

According to the chairman of the judging panel, Professor Sir Christopher Ricks, Davis is able to "realise things down to the very word or syllable". The beauty of the really, really short short story is that you can judge for yourself, right here, right now.

Here is A Double Negative: "At a certain point in her life, she realises it is not so much that she wants to have a child as that she does not want not to have a child, or not to have had a child." The End.

I hope I haven't left out a "not". That would stuff it up completely.

- NZ Herald

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