The days have gone when only a few journalists travelled with the players from event to event. Back when the European Tour was first finding its feet, there was a small pocket of old school hacks that were close to the top brass. They got the stories they needed and both parties looked after each other. Respect was definitely a two-way thing.
Refreshingly, things haven’t changed that much. The relationship with the players has died down a little. Management and PR people are there to take care of matters and the days of direct lines are long gone, but I guess it’s just a case of moving with the times. Nowadays there is a really nice mix of old and new writers. Some of the old boys who followed me in my early career have gone up to the heavens, but many of the great die-hards remain. It doesn’t matter where the tournament is, head into the media centre and you’ll see the likes of acclaimed golf writers such as Norman Dabell, Graham Otway and Bernie McGuire punching away furiously on their laptops to bring you guys the stories of the week. If you ask me the journalists who write about this sport have helped to push it to where it is today. For that they deserve serious credit.
Don’t get me wrong; there’s always been a love/hate relationship with some of them. As a bloke who has always had a few words to say, it’s natural that the odd story has followed me around. A few years back I was on a flight from Johannesburg, heading over to Perth for a tournament back in Australia. At the time I was playing some of my best crap on Tour and so I decided to treat myself to economy class – seat 62B. I always remember the good times.
The flight got off to a very nice start, as I found myself sitting next to a charming young lady, and we had a couple of drinks. It was all good. Then I hopped off to the toilet and when I got back a huge South African covered in piercings had decided to make himself at home in seat 62B – my seat. I politely pointed out that perhaps he would do well to head back to where he had come from – his seat. But he wasn’t having any of it, and naturally, matters began to get a tad heated as the verbals started to fly. In short, he didn’t like what I was saying, and I didn’t like what he was saying. If you were being diplomatic, I guess you would have called it a difference of opinion.
Anyway, it wasn’t long before one of the flight attendants minced his way over. There were threats of handcuffs, and eventually I took my seat. After landing, the police escorted my friend and I to our luggage. There was no fracas, the coppers seemed more interested in where I was playing that week than any nonsense that might have kicked off on the plane.
But little did I know that this was just the start of it. Back in London, the red tops lapped it up. They got wind of the story and wanted to turn the knife. Camped outside my Surrey home – much to the delight of the ex-wife – they were banging on the door with their cameras. I wasn’t there, but my daughters Bonnie and Shannon must have thought I was dead. “He bloody will be when he gets home,” their mum probably said.
In terms of exposure, it was one of the worst times of my life, because the whole thing was totally blown out of proportion. You have to take the good with the bad and I’m fully aware that the better story is the juicier one. But boy when journalists need to fill those column inches, they are prepared to rake up any old dross.
Having said that, it’s mostly the boys from the front pages, and the guys who write about this great game remain, mostly, a fairly decent bunch of eggs. They are golf fans through and through, and their knowledge, eye for a feature and expertise in delivering it remain second to none. It’s a pleasure to be associated with them. So if you’re reading this boys, hats off to you all. Just make sure you don’t sit in seat 62B, yeah…