An Outsiders Inside View

How many of us had the conversation. Watching some televised sport (the normal triggers are sport of a truly woeful nature or those moments of sporting exhilaration when athletes seem to transcend what is thought possible in their chosen field) the chat will inevitably come to the missed opportunity:

“Could have been me that, you know? If only I’d had the dedication/supportive parents/decent school/avoided the knee injury.”

If you’ve known the speaker for years (or if you are the speaker) then you may know this to be lie. If you don’t know the speaker that well, then you simply fall into the role of willing stooge: a nod of the head followed by a rueful half smile and a murmured agreement that life is, indeed, unfair.

The problem with our attitude to sport is that almost every sport has become mass participation. By which I mean that as the number of people actually playing decreases, the number of people actively watching through TV coverage is growing all the time. We are all experts now: we know the problems with players, we know the problems with tactics, we know exactly what we would do if we were ever granted the stage.

But what if we actually took ourselves seriously? What if the pub chat about where Lee Westwood went wrong on the tricky par 4, 15th actually became a burning desire to do it ourselves?

That is exactly what the journalist Tom Cox did when he tried his arm at the Europro Tour in 2006. The results of Cox’s endeavours (a talented youngster who had walked away from the game he had rekindled his desire to become, at 30, a talented club player) are not the stuff of Hollywood. The book he produced on his experience, Bring Me The Head of Sergio Garcia, is, however, an entertaining glimpse into the lower reaches of professional golf.

Cox’s problem, perhaps, is that he thought he could live the fantasy of the bar: the point is, almost without exception, very few of us ever fantasise that we had the talent to become non league footballers, lower division rugby players or struggling golfers. Our fantasies are about the big stage.

Cox, who with more method in his approach may have fared better, found out that this was not the life for him. The sun drenched fairways of the Open are one thing. The travelling, cost and danger of your cat peeing on your golf bag of the Europro Tour are something else. Cox’s disappointment at the surroundings almost immediately hampers his dedication and his game.

The humour of the book often centres around Cox’s own misfortunes (caused, more often than not, by himself). A practice round on the wrong course, a mix up with the dates of Open qualifiers, the battles with the “brain worm” that destroys his game, his – often jaundiced and unjustified – dislike of officialdom and his opinions of the special breed that call the Europro Tour home.

But what of the financial consequences? Or the real feelings of his long suffering, and apparently eternally sympathetic wife, Edie? By not dwelling on these issues Cox, at times, comes across as a man living through a very early midlife crisis.

One of Cox’s friends when he was a teenage tearaway terrorising junior officials and winning bucketloads of trophies has already given up the pro’s travelling life by the time Cox turns to it. It is the friend’s father who sums up the problem that a lack of total dedication can bring, no matter the potential of the talent. His son had told him he felt sorry for an opponent as he cruised to a 5 hole lead. In that instant the father knew that his son lacked the single mindedness that a top pro needs. It may be the missing ingredient that a lot of those on the Europro Tour search forlornly for through the reasonable weeks, the mediocre weeks and the downright bad weeks.

Cox’s experiment would have been far purer if he had been prepared to hand his life over to the 24 hour pursuit of success that it seems many of today’s players have. But married, thirty something, freelance writers with mortgages and cats are unable to do that. So Cox must cast himself as the lovable maverick who can do it his own way, the unsponsored hick in the slightly shrunk polo shirt that can buck the trend and beat the system.

As an undiluted treatise on the way to succeed on the golf course the book suffers because of the compromise Cox has had made. As an endearing, entertaining and, at times, laugh out loud funny story that provides a small insight into the lower reaches of sport, however, this is a wonderful book.

As for the ending. Not even 200 hundred striking Hollywood writers could imagine a professional’s last hurrah being in an Urban Golf event with a caddie who had come along for the free whisky and bag made out of cardboard by an ever indulgent wife!

One Response to “An Outsiders Inside View”

  1. Pat Whelton says:

    How many poor souls will read this, and say, ye been there ,done that, except they never wrote the book. Well done Tom Cox, lifes too short to have regrets, if you can write and laugh about it, maybe it was worth something after all.

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