Anand Datla

The tidal wave of affection ebbs and flows for golfers

The ebb and flow of attention and affection in the eyes of the public and media is a fascinating companion to the journey of a golfer

Open Championship Spectators

Carnoustie, 20 July 2018: I take the 0634am service from Aberdeen, trying to reach Carnoustie before the course soaks in too much action. As the train chugs along the North Sea coast, I am greeted by a constant sight. And reminded of the varying notes of interest that define the relationships between the narrators and their subjects.

A man and a dog walk the beach between Arbroath and Carnoustie. He must be in his forties, a sturdy gentleman who might have served the armed forces. The Deerhound is a dark shade of grey, agile and strong. The master throws a ball, the dog races out and retrieves it before the waves can wash it away. As it gallops back to its master, there is a pat of acknowledgement. After running the errand a few times, the dog receives a cookie and a deeper caress.

The master and dog isn’t an analogy we could use for writer and golfer, but the underlying relationship and bonding is a construct that is well worth an examination.

Just a few years ago, Jason Day was the toast of town. The media could not get enough of the young Aussie. He was indulgent too, throwing himself and family, onstage to engage with the world.

Yesterday, Day was out in the afternoon in the company of Shota Akiyoshi and Haotong Li. The grandstand surrounding the first tee was half full and by the time the trio returned to the 18th green, only the diehard few remained in the gallery.

Attention is short these days. We flock to the winner like a swarm of bees. Sometimes we run after the scent of controversy. But the nature of these journeys is characterised by a constant impermanence. It is an irony that is hard to ignore.

On the grounds through the practice rounds and the first round on Thursday, there was a pied piper. Always has been for the better part of two decades. Tiger Woods. He is an iconic exception to the vagaries of sport. Built on a body of work far more robust than the modern day cloud hugging towers, Tiger never fails to draw the bees.

The rest of them keep traveling on their own journeys often accompanied by an eager swarm, alone at other times. The ebb and tide of public interest is controlled by the strings of success and failure.

Anirban Lahiri went through this process too when he reached the PGA TOUR in 2015. The Indian dealt with the curiosity of the international media when he broke into the top deck of professional golf with two victories in three week in 2015.

Now it is the turn of Shubhankar Sharma to deal with this curiosity and attention. And both men have done a tremendous job of representing themselves on and off the course.

On the beach, the roles are clear, as the man and his dog play to the rhythm of the water and the sea. In sport though, it is not just the wave that ebbs and flows. Even the athlete, the public and therefore the media engage in a constantly oscillating dialogue, with their roles alternating one way and then the other.

It is a question worth pondering over – why is an athlete only worth the salt in success and not so much in failure? The answer to it and a conscious acknowledgment of the underlying human endeavour can make this engagement far more profound instead of leaving it in a fragile ephemeral bubble.

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