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Neil Drysdale: Here’s hoping for an Open where actions speak louder than words

Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas in practice on Sunday at the Old Course.
Tiger Woods and Justin Thomas in practice on Sunday at the Old Course.

One of the most irritating developments in TV sports coverage has been the insistence that competitors get a microphone stuck in their face the minute after they have just won a match or a race.

It was prevalent throughout Wimbledon, with hastily-arranged interviews being set up as a procession of knackered warriors completed their business and suddenly realised they had to analyse their victories before the result had actually sunk in.

Unsurprisingly, there were precious few bon mots or memorable shafts of wisdom, let alone insights from most of the players.

What else would you expect after they had been trading blows with opponents for hours in sweltering heat, their concentration focused on adhering to their game plan or whatever jargon is employed in coaching circles these days.

And yet sport is increasingly plagued by this desperate pursuit of pithy quotes and instant responses to whatever we have just been watching. In athletics, it’s the norm for British participants to be hauled into shot for a quick chat or group huddle, whether they have even qualified for the final or not.

Novak Djokovic endured a lot of abuse from spectators at Wimbledon, but still won.

And I’ve always thought to myself: “How on earth would I feel if I had just trained for months or even years for one event, then suffered a bad start and missed out by a few hundredths of a second?”

I doubt very much I’d be inclined to retort: “Well you know, it’s disappointing, but the crowd were brilliant, my coach has done great, this is a wonderful stadium, my rivals were terrific, and it’s not a matter of life and death!”

These were just some of the not-so-fascinating answers which were wheeled out from the Big Bumper Book of Cliches at Wimbledon, where it seemed every player had to take a few seconds to declare how brilliant the spectators had been. And, frankly, it was nonsensical. Sometimes, the crowd seemed under the misapprehension they were at a boxing contest or a disco. In a few cases, their conduct was puerile and exasperating. But nobody called that out.

Rory McIlroy is confident ahead of The Open at St Andrews.

Thankfully, matters should be a little quieter when the world’s best golfers tee off at the 150th Open Championship at St Andrews on Thursday morning. In recent months, the sport has been tearing itself apart over the LIV Tour to the stage where I’m heartily sick of reading about this ill-conceived project.

In common with most people, my feeling is that the elite performers on the links and fairways already earn prodigious amounts of money for hitting a little white ball around a course and I instinctively side with Rory McIlroy – one of the good guys – when he condemns those who have driven a plane through human rights – or the lack of them – to join the Saudi-backed venture.

Yet, in some respects, it’s irrelevant what I think. Nobody should pretend that sport isn’t dominated by financial concerns these days and, whether it’s the World Cup heading to Qatar this winter, or the likes of Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson pocketing millions of dollars from defecting to the new tour, or Serena Williams demanding her own fleet of cars at Wimbledon, there are too many cases where self-interest and ego take precedence.

Tiger Woods won his first Open at the Old Course in 2000.

Hopefully, though, such things won’t matter when the Open begins. Because, whatever happens, this tournament promises to be something special on the calendar; a happy juxtaposition of past and present at a majestic setting.

It’s obviously heartening to behold Tiger Woods back at his old haunts, gearing up for what will probably be his final appearance at the home of golf – and although it’s hard to envisage him challenging for the Claret Jug, the sight of him being there at all in the mix is one of the summer’s highlights.

It’s 27 years since he made his debut at the hallowed venue. And 22 since the all-conquering cavalier returned to St Andrews as the most famous sportsman in the world and proceeded to make major golf seem like a Sunday stroll.

In these days, he truly was a phenomenon, a force of nature who had powered his way to a 15-shot victory at the US Open at Pebble Beach the previous month in 2000. In which circumstances, it was a shock to nobody that he prevailed at the Old Course by eight shots and smiled that dazzling smile.

To be honest, we didn’t need to hear him explain afterwards about his latest achievement. We didn’t require a hole-by-hole breakdown of the whys and wherefores of his club selection or his thought process as he strove for perfection in his own little bubble of transcendent derring-do.

Because we all had witnessed it for ourselves and marvelled at the fashion in which Woods was such a resplendent figure in his domain. Just as we gasped at the sublime elegance of a Roger Federer forehand or a Sachin Tendulkar cover-drive. There are some moments where it would be sacrilege to interrupt a maestro at work and some occasions where words are superfluous.

Perhaps, the tennis authorities might care to heed that message in the future. Or remember that nobody’s going to dare sticking a microphone in Woods’ face when he is walking off the 18th green on Thursday.

Let the actions speak for themselves.