By Cowley, Jason
New Statesman (1996) , Vol. 134, No. 4750
Nothing exposes inequality of talent more greatly than sport. Sport is all about measurable exceptions, about quantifying ability--about showing who the best is and why and how he or she compares with those who went before. It confirms one of the earliest and most painful lessons of life: that justice is not of this world and that the winner, especially in a time of unfettered capitalism, takes all.
To watch Tiger Woods in action on the final day of the Open Championship at St Andrews was to understand that you were watching the greatest golfer ever to have played the game. St Andrews likes to call itself the home of golf but, to me, it increasingly resembles nothing so much as a well-maintained pitch-and-putt course, cared for by a cabal of grey-haired men, all dressed in the same bland blazers.
That, at least, is what the course has been reduced to by the long hitters of the modern game, with their balloon-headed drivers, laboratory-tested golf balls, computer-modelled swings and greater athleticism.
There are no trees or artificial water hazards on links golf courses--no strategically designed lake or bank of poplar trees flanking a green--nothing much to protect the course from the power of the modern golfer when the wind doesn't blow, as it did not during those four benign days by the sea at St Andrews.
Time and again, Woods rendered the course virtually defenceless by driving straight on or alongside the green of a par four. So complete was his mastery of the course and the more intricate arts of golf--especially chipping and putting--that all he really needed to be carrying in his bag was a driver, a wedge and a putter.
Yet it was thrilling to watch him win all the same, as the confirmation of true talent is always thrilling: look on my works, mere mortal, and despair!
How must it feel to be playing golf in the age of Tiger Woods? Or competing at Wimbledon against Roger Federer? Or riding in the Tour de France against the American Ubermensch Lance Armstrong, who is moving inexorably towards his seventh consecutive victory? …