Loyalty is Sport’s Camelot.

Of all the characteristics to which to aspire, loyalty is the most admirable. It was my father’s default setting. To both blood and stranger.

Once a furious neighbour came to our door accusing me and my mates of panning-in his windows with snowballs, turbo-charged from distance with a homemade sling (those things are what 70s kids did before phones). After I denied it, my dad calmly told the neighbour he was mistaken, as he stood in front of me. I was actually innocent, but he didn’t know that; I had previous, so the accusation was very plausible. Later, he gave me hell explaining that’s what happens when you get a reputation.

In fact, today’s Sunday Column is all about reputation, loyalty, and tradition and their importance to the soul and future of sport.

The PGA of course provides us with the protagonists and the clear moral of the story. The civil war in golf, at this point, is no longer about business models, audience tastes, the market forces of polarisation, arbitrage, money, Greg Norman, or even, Saudi.

 

As I see it, it is now only about a belief in loyalty.

It is so sad and depressing to see all the bickering between ex-teammates and colleagues in this great sport. Looking back, I’d argue that it was correct to suggest that Rory didn’t have the maturity or personality to lead the anti-LIV crusade, and he’s now personally come out of all this very badly. Substitute Seve for him, 18 months ago, and we are living a different narrative today. Be in no doubt.

Rory, ultimately, is a bit lightweight, in a fight bigger than him. I actually feel for the lad.

Brutus says Caesar was too ambitious; and Brutus is an honourable man.

is slightly more effective than:

Fuck you Phil.

But not everyone in life has the nuts to be Marc Anthony, and I hope Rory finally learns that lesson. A good man always knows his limitations.

When the John Rahm defection broke last week, I pinged Eddie Pepperell:

Come on, and help us think this through now.

Eddie has been on the show a few times before, but I’ve never met him or known him well; Grant’s mate. But he is someone I respect; smart, thinks laterally (too much for a competing elite sportsman) and, most of all, has really solid values of cameraderie. My dad would have liked Mr Pepperell.

I think that Eddie’s main gripe, with all the LIV stuff, the TGL, popularity bonuses, is actually entirely about loyalty to golf and the organisations/structures that have given him, and others, a living. To an institution with the traditional way of doing things, principally out of respect to those that went before. To an old-fashioned idea that the Tour is a community of shared pathway and common struggle; a real band of brothers where, in cycles, some will do well, others less so, and one recognises that, whilst form is temporary, class and belonging is permanent.

I sense Eddie feels this way to his core and is currently dying inside, as his home burns down.

His mindset is compelling and “honourable”, and is the communication line I would have used if I had been Monahan or Pelley. It’s really the only winning pitch. Loyalty.

 

I’m writing this before recording the AYNE show,
but I know what I want to ask…

How much loyalty does Jay Monahan now deserve, on his $20m salary? Is the U-turn from Rahm, previously so vociferous an opponent of LIV, down to the very simple reasoning that he no longer feels a duty or responsibility to a PGA Tour represented by this man? I think it is.

Loyalty, by definition, must always be earned and reciprocal. And this is the moral of the story.

 

Golf’s Round Table.

Romantically, as one reaches for the cute editorial hook to this Column, there are perhaps entertaining  similarities in today’s story of golf and the PGAs with the medieval Round Table.

King Arthur’s Table had no head, implying that everyone who sat there had equal status. A marvellous court of excellence made up of elite knights, naturally encouraging the best, from all far-distant kingdoms, to join. A code of chivalry so important, that it inspired people everywhere to imitate it.

Isn’t this golf, as so many see it? The golf of The Concession. 

The brand name for this code, this mentality, this collection of heroes, exists to this day as “Camelot”.

Camelot is the idea of a cluster of talents, altruism, values, optimism, and courage. The presidency of John Fitzgerald Kennedy is the best contemporary example of the brand, but the label is always everywhere, in fiction and non, from the Sopranos to Walt Disney.

It is a word the PGA should have been using from day 1, as its trump card, instead of disgracefully dragging in 9/11 families. Monahan, however, is the usual bullying dullard we often find in charge of a sports monopoly, now delivering this inevitable tragic denouement. His name will forever be associated as the “guy who let golf rip itself apart”. And that’s fair.

We are told that Arthur, Camelot, and the Round Table all ended with the disloyalty of its most celebrated and admired of knights, Lancelot, via an unavoidable love affair with Arthur’s wife Guinevere. Now I’m not suggesting that Rahm slept with Rory’s wife, but the analogy has some mischievous merit. The Spaniard’s “disloyalty” now will absolutely bring down the curtain on the old Tour, as it did the Table. Make no mistake, the PGA Tour, as we all knew it, is no more.

 

Loyalty.

So, after a good few years personally discussing and writing on the future of our industry, I today conclude that the solemn Holy Grail of sport lies only in the hope of one word:

Loyalty, to the spirit of the game, its athletes and its fans.

There is no real alternative salvation to the crashing waves of Sport’s Perfect Storm (money, demographics, and geopolitics), outside of the intangible philosophy and poetry of loyalty and tradition. Our future now, in all this disruption and uncertainty, must lie uniquely in a search for sport’s Camelot. If it even still exists.

That feels right, doesn’t it? Sport isn’t just entertainment content and if it plays to compete in the broadcast media market with this strategy, it will fail. Neither fish nor fowl.

There is nothing of Ali or Tyson in this clip. It’s like the Netflix Cup, or the streamer’s new tennis exhibition match now announced. Meaningless and naff.

We, in this industry, need instead to play to our strengths, find a way to get on “first” effectively, as Grant Williams has always said, to be fair.

If we try and compete like the Yankees in here, we will lose to the Yankees out there. – Moneyball

But there’s a big problem with trying to build our castle and moat around loyalty. Old sport thinks this “tradition” card is Excalibur. The protector and conqueror of all which, when wielded, will put all to rights, by itself, through its very existence.

 

Delusion.

That magnificent sword, powerful as it may be, in the hands of the unworthy is nought but a weapon of self destruction. Its karma will rebound. To continue the metaphor, it will only work for those of impeccable character, gravitas, and reputation. For Galahad.

We, as an industry, need to find our Galahad. In every single sport. And give them the sword.

It takes 20 years to build a reputation, and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently. Lose money for the firm, and I will be understanding. Lose a shred of reputation for the firm, and I will be ruthless. Warren Buffett

Jay Monahan and his apologists on the Golf Channel have lost more than just “a shred” of golf’s reputation. They have torched the whole damn brand. So we must be “ruthless” with him and his buddies, in this industry of ours. Terminate with extreme prejudice.

 

Let’s try and be honest and realistic, because our backs are now really against the wall.

Sport, the Jay Monahans, the Sepp Blatters, almost every Federation president I’ve ever personally met, live, and survive by vomiting political PR platitudes around “family”, “storied names on our trophies”, “tradition”. All with faux association to the heroes.

There is nothing worse than claiming the glory of others to yourself,  and you will deservedly get a bloody nose sooner or later.

In a vice-presidential debate in 1988, between Bentsen and Quayle, the latter, unashamedly playing the Camelot card, was eviscerated, as Excalibur indeed rebounded…

 

Sport, itself, needs to be very wary of this risk, as our leaders way too often fill their mouths, and our ears, with the saccherine words that always appeal to the better, more hopeful, parts of ourselves.

We mustn’t fall for that seduction…

Commissioner Monahan, you are no Jack Kennedy.

Our sporting traditions, like Buffet’s “reputation”, are not in fact unassailable and invincible, as golf is tragically showing us in spades. They will decay and die if used badly, and become what in Italian is called a “marchetta” (a token gesture, aspiring to represent serious value, but normally transparently squalid).

Marchetta is one of those words that defy myriad sentences of attempted definition. Like, class, decorum, elegance; they are more recognisable than describable.

Google and “do no evil”, in 2023, is clearly a marchetta. Sport, in the eye of the storm today, is just full of this fake virtue-signalling to the past.

 

The mediocrity of today, masquerading as the glory of yesterday, demanding blind respect.

That’s not gonna be good enough. It will drag us all to the bottom, mark my words. The PGA has been sunk, and they are not alone. Here is yet another example.

In a similar theme, more pain exists for me closer to home. As Jock Stein stated simply, a Celtic strip will not shrink to fit a lesser player.

The tradition and reputation of Celtic
is so unique and beautiful that it truly is sporting Excalibur.

Once, this absolutely was the purest truth of our youth, a brand we all held so proudly on our travels. Those hoops you wore were very very heavy, and you felt it, even as a child. Playing in the local park wearing our strip was not a banal experience; you had a duty to be at least half-decent. If not,

Take it off, you’re embarrassing yourself and the Club.

Not just because of our pioneering sporting glories in the 60s and 70s. But because of the backstory of a club, open to all, before “inclusion” was even a word, set up to provide soup kitchens and sanctuary for the poor Irish immigrants in the 1880s.

Celtic’s Excalibur today has no power, having been appropriated by the PLC director,
the accountant, and the absentee-landlord.

It no longer works and remains merely as a fig leaf for crony negligence and nepotism, covering up a scandalous lack of excellence and ambition. A marketing story to the many gullible fans who prefer tribal flags and banners, disco lights, to what is sport’s real Camelot of quality and competing.

If this seems harsh, just remember that FC Copenhagen, a tiny club in size and brand compared to us, is in the last 16 of the Champions League. Like Brugge in previous years. We have become the Andorra of club football because Excalibur won’t ever work in the wrong hands. That is the real moral of this Column.

 

Loyalty and tradition in sport is potent but delicate.
So, it cannot ever be taken for granted or abused.

It needs nurtured to prevent it from withering. Loyalty seems long dead in association football for example: players show no attachment, because fans and owners don’t. A club like Leicester can demand no loyalty today from anyone, having sacked Ranieri the way they did (some just don’t get that, and moan incessantly about LIV golfers’ disloyalty, bizarre). Fans, equally, now so quick to plunge the dagger into their heroes after one bad game, can thus expect no player attachment to a badge.

Don’t blame the likes of Saudi, or Greg, or filthy lucre. It’s all on us. Golf and tennis as Tours, with their players as independent contractors, could have held firm against all the temptation, if its leaders could have articulated Camelot and Excalibur with gravitas and oratory. Instead we got Dan Quayle, casually and nonchalantly announcing a deal with LIV, without even telling his most loyal players, like McIlroy. He directly empowered the John Rahms of this world to follow the money with clear conscience. The brotherhood of loyalty dissolved.

Here is what Eddie thinks.

 

This is the destiny of all sport on the current path.

Excalibur is currently held by the wrong sort of sports’ leader. But it can still save us. Just give it to a golfer called Pepperell. To a Michael Johnson.

The true knights of sport’s Round Table.


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