My darling daughter is just turning 12 years old, so, bad parent that I am, for the last couple of years I have been subjected to a torturous daily routine of kid’s TV. I’ve seen Zack and Cody, Hannah Montana, iCarly, and various other fresh-faced pre-weenies turn into an assembly line of zit-ridden teenaged role models, and followed their careers down the inevitable dumper to the parental nightmares of car wrecks, small dogs in tutus and leather biker outfits, drug-addled police mug shots, and designer ankle bracelets. It wouldn’t be so bad, but I have a horrible feeling this phenomenon may be creeping its way into golf.
Dear god, but these ankle-biters are getting absurdly young! For a while it was the likes of Camilo Villegas and Anthony Kim who looked prepubescent, but it’s taken only a couple of short years to make it seem like those two are ready for the Zimmer frame, or a wicker bath chair with a blanket and an ear trumpet (albeit with a chesty nurse in fishnet stockings). We now have 18-year-olds shooting in the high fifties, pimply foreign kids who can win PGA Tour events but can’t even legally celebrate with a bitterly cold beer, and now, with Jordan Spieth riding his tricycle over most of the field at the Byron Nelson, high school juniors who haven’t reached the proficiency in math required to fill in a scorecard are popping up. P.J. O’Rourke said that age and guile will always beat youth and a bad haircut, but throw in a ghastly hat and try telling that to Rickie Fowler.
I shouldn’t complain, as I turned pro at 17, but at least I had the decency to be completely and utterly crap, with a bogus 5 handicap to prove it. Of course when I was 15 years old, the simple act of showing up on the practice ground with a shag bag filled with 17 lacerated Penfold Aces, Dunlop 65s, and Uniroyal Plus 6s was enough to drive some of the liquored-up, bulbous-nosed incontinent old fartwads in the men’s bar over the cliff of grumpiness and into the chasm of full-blown apoplexy. I got thrown off the range more times than I can remember, suspended every now and then, and was the recipient of several angry letters from the club secretary. Apparently children should not be seen, heard, or worst of all, taking divots out of the tiny grassless triangle of trampled-down turds that was the practice ground at Bangor Golf Club.
So I left, turned pro, and my maiden voyage “across the water”— to take up an assistant pro’s position at Mid-Herts G.C., just north of London—was helped by gales of laughter from the membership. There, under the tutelage of the senior assistant pro, I spent my days inhaling solvents in the workshop, learning to be a drunk, counting tee pegs (seriously, I had to account for each one), trying to get my leg over the club manager’s daughter, beating the crap out of my snot-green 1966 Vauxhall Viva, and occasionally playing a few holes with the members. After three months of this vital apprenticeship, I was missing my mom so badly that I came home and took a job as the assistant pro at Holywood Golf Club, the future home course of Rory McIlroy, who would be born some 13 years later.
When Rory won at Quail Hollow earlier this year, he didn’t look like he missed his mom. Maybe that’s what this is all about! Is it possible that I have fallen into the age-old trap of being a begrudging old fart? You know the type: “Things were tougher in my day, the hole was smaller, our balls were made of wood, we did an honest day’s work, and in return we got a damn good thrashing with a hickory paddle and were grateful for it! Now these snotty-nostriled, long-haired young louts who can’t even take their hats off in the clubhouse are raking in oceans of cash for simply turning up, being thin, and dressing like lava lamps. Bollocks to the lot of them, damn their eyes and may a pox fall upon the wobbly bits of their fawning parents. Mark my words, it won’t last. In fact, never mind drug testing—they should bring back the lash! That would be a better reason to have a few of them with their trousers around their ankles—a red bottom never did me a bit of harm . . . ahem. . . .”
On second thought, that’s not it. In fact, I was so proud of Rory McIlroy at Quail Hollow, it was all I could do not to dry-hump his leg during our interview—a fact duly pointed out to me by many of my colleagues. Nope, I’m glad to see the game’s stars getting younger and younger. I just hope Rory doesn’t make the same mistakes that I and George Best did (another Ulsterman, and arguably the greatest soccer player the world ever knew). We spent the vast majority of the money we made in our playing careers on fast cars, hot women, and alcohol. The rest, dammit, we just squandered.