The headline on the PGA TOUR website today is about the incident involving Ryan Palmer on the ninth hole. He was spared the penalty for kicking a divot in anger after a poor wedge shot, sharing the lead with Harris English. Justin Thomas is only four strokes back from Palmer after a five-under 68 but is curiously absent from the report. The defending champion would have made a good cover story after the microphones caught him muttering f****t under his breath, after missing a short putt for par on the fourth hole.
As usual, the PGA TOUR continues to maintain that disciplinary action remains out of bounds for the very fans that feed its existence. The issue has been a bone of contention for a very long time now and this is the perfect opportunity for the leading golf tour on the planet to step up and show some leadership. We are into the third decade of a new millennium and as golf celebrates some of its finest stars in a scenic setting in Hawaii, living behind the curtains does not afford the TOUR a good look.
Elsewhere, on another island in the southern hemisphere, Indian cricketers have been suffering and complaining about incidences of abuse from the crowd in the Sydney test against Australia. The darkly divisive culture that continues to pervade life and sport is a grim reminder of the need for human evolution even as we deal with mind numbing advances in technology.
It is one thing to hold individuals accountable for their misdeeds. And one hopes that both the spectators in Sydney and Thomas are dealt with a firm hand and an objective process. But that is never going to be adequate. Cultural transformation needs far more than individual accountability. It needs among other things a systemic effort to shine light on human values of equity and social justice, making significant investments in awareness and practice.
Thomas was apologetic soon as he found out that his moment was captured on television. “There’s just no excuse. I’m an adult, I’m a grown man,” Thomas told the Golf Channel after his round. “There’s absolutely no reason for me to say anything like that. It’s terrible. I’m extremely embarrassed. It’s not who I am. It’s not the kind of person that I am. I did it and I have to own up to it and I’m very apologetic.
“There’s no other way to put it. I need to do better. I need to be better. It’s definitely a learning experience. I deeply apologize to anyone and everybody who I offended and I’ll be better because of it.”
As much as it is an opportunity for Thomas to question his own biases, so it is, on a bigger scale for the PGA TOUR. It is useful for an individual to revisit his or her prejudices. But it is even more significant when an institutions stands face first while it is staring at a situation that lends itself to being offensive to several human beings, many of them fans of a great sport.
It could leave a timeless imprint on the minds of its fans and leave a legacy, if the PGA TOUR stepped up to take a clear stand on matters that threaten human dignity.