News & Opinion

European pros show golf’s lighter side

Rory McIlroy clearly was nervous. He agreed to an on-camera interview conducted by a 9-year-old lad named Billy. And McIlroy had no idea what Billy might ask.

About midway through the interview, Billy said, “I know you and Andy Murray are mates. But who is your favorite girllll tennis player?”

McIlroy dropped his head and shifted in his director’s chair for what seemed like minutes. And it appeared as if he’d blushed. Finally, he said, “I’ve stopped following women’s tennis,” owing to his breakup with Caroline Wozniacki.

This interview wasn’t conducted by some TV network trying to get the goods on McIlroy. Instead, it was put together by the European Tour and done a year ago at this time, just before the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. And the result was gut-busting hilarious.

At the end of the interview, Billy had a wedding present for McIlroy and suggested that he open it then. It was a box of socks. McIlroy looked puzzled.

“In case you get cold feet again,” Billy said.

If you’ve never seen any of these videos, they are available on YouTube. In addition to McIlroy (http://bit.ly/2fjaWaT), Billy has interviewed Andrew “Beef” Johnston (http://bit.ly/2eiJX0U), Graeme McDowell (http://bit.ly/2zIIiuR), Thomas Bjorn (http://bit.ly/2z7mFVx) and singer Niall Horan (http://bit.ly/2zOvtwI), a good friend of McIlroy’s.

You’ll find dozens of European Tour videos of all sorts of wacky premises. Teeing off on a par 3 with a putter. Or hitting a left-handed club on a par 3. Or pranking players with a fake TV interview. Or pranking unsuspecting golf fans with the worst golf instruction you could find.

The common denominator is that these videos have European Tour players participating in them – gladly. Yes, you heard that right. Players seem to enjoy doing the interviews, and some have an absolute knee-slapping time.

At last year’s Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open, the Tour produced a video entitled “200-Yard Putt” (http://bit.ly/2eNxZHY). Players were challenged to a closest-to-the-pin contest on the 200-yard par-3 17th at Castle Stuart. But here’s the twist: They had to use a putter.

The players squirmed, yelled at the ball and used their best body English. Phil Mickelson and Henrik Stenson claimed their caddies gave them the wrong club. But most of all, they had a helluva time.

For the record, Russell Knox hit it to 9 feet to win the challenge. It took a better shot than that to win the challenge at this year’s Scottish Open in July at Dundonald Links. Players were asked to take on a 118-yard par 3 – with a left-handed club (http://bit.ly/2yPwhjG).

There were shanks, tops, pulls and a near whiff. But no one complained, and players laughed out loud. “Let’s see how rubbish I am left-handed,” Stenson said. “I know I ain’t good.” That was just before he hit a shot to 2 feet to win the competition. He dropped the club and started walking toward the green, with his arms extended in triumph.

We bring this up to point out that this is just another difference between the European Tour and the PGA Tour. I might be wrong, but these videos never could be made here in the U.S. The PGA Tour, its executives and most all of its players take themselves entirely too seriously.

There could be staffers at PGA Tour headquarters creative enough to do such videos, but more importantly, it would be nigh impossible to get the players to participate without some severe arm-twisting.

And that’s too bad. Wouldn’t it be great for the PGA Tour and its players to find a way to show the world how human – and funny – they are? I say almost no PGA Tour players would participate. Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed and Steve Stricker played along in the par-3 challenges.

And it’s a good bet that Jordan Spieth, Fowler, Justin Thomas and Smylie Kaufman would be first in line, if videos were done by the PGA Tour. They are the ones who posted their spring-break video on social media. They were shirtless with straw hats and were doing things that 20-somethings do when on a buddies’ trip.

Bubba Watson, Hunter Mahan, Fowler and ringleader Ben Crane did the Golf Boys rap video several years ago. They don’t get enough credit for that, even though beauty was in the eye of the beholder.

But unless hell freezes over, you’ll just have to be content with watching European Tour players laughing at their own expense. Let’s thank them for that.

   

Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: golfedit@gmail.com; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf