Darren Clarke’s act of sportsmanship at yesterday’s Nissan Irish Open earned him huge respect from players, officials and golf fans around the world. Even so, the big Irishman brushed it off as merely confirming golf’s great integrity and reputation for self-policing.
Leading the field by two strokes (when played was halted on Sunday because heavy had waterlogged the course), Clarke returned to the spot on the nine hole where his ball had landed in deep rough after a wayward drive.
Before abandonning his ball on Sunday – it’s place marked by officials – he had decided he would chip it back on to the fairway when play resumed.
However, when he got there hours later on Monday, he found the area, where he would have to make a replacement dropped into a poor lie, transformed into a reasonable one. Grass had been trampled and the ball was now exposed. If he chose to, he could just about reach the green.
Officials (and even chief referee Andy McFee) agreed that he was within his rights to play it as it lie and take advantage of some benevolent golf fans’ decision to improve the ball’s position in the newly flattened grass.
But Clarke said he could not afford for the game’s integrity to be compromised in such away, so stuck with his previous decision to chip out on to the fairway. The decision effectively cost him a bogey five and ultimately the title he longed to win.
Said Clarke modestly: "That's part and parcel of the game. A lot of people had been looking for the ball and a lot of people had flattened the grass around it. It was a much better lie than when I left it. I had the opportunity to hit it on to the green, but I felt my conscience wouldn't allow me to do that."
Almost every week we hear stories about golfers penalising themselves with actions that are taken within the spirit of the game – a ball moving inadvertently that no one except the player involved sees or an incorrect drop from a hazard.
Few other sports – apart from a cricketer’s decision to ‘walk’ when he has knowingly snicked a catch – can hold their respective heads so high.
Two, however that come to mind are athlete John Landy’s decision to stop mid-race to assist a fallen Ron Clarke in the 1956 Australian Mile Championships and West Ham’s Paolo Di Canio’s spurning a scoring opportunity (and catching the ball) to allow Everton’s injured goalkeeper treatment in 2001.
Landy incidentally is now a top politician as the governor of Canberra.
Sadly standards of sportsmanship in football, particularly, have dropped with many players brushing up their theatrical skills to earn unwarranted penalties or even get an opponent cautioned.
Expect little of golf’s integrity in the forthcoming World Cup in Germany, for instance.
However, as golfers, we must only do as our conscience tells us and, like the hapless Clarke, walk tall in the knowledge that our integrity and the game’s are not bruised by our actions.
Join in the discussion on Clarke’s act of sportsmanship on the forum. Many of you already describe him as a class act deserving of our applause. And tell us, too about any acts of sportsmanship you have witnessed on the golf course.