TURNBERRY, Scotland -- Nobody elected we Yanks as the moral conscience of the newspaper biz, but when a handful of American scribblers saw the European Tour's biting condemnation of Sandy Lyle on Wednesday, it was hard not to laugh.
Tour commissioner George O'Grady said, in part, "The tour fully understands Sandy Lyle’s disappointment at not being elected [Ryder Cup] captain, but deeply regrets his comments, which are considered wholly inappropriate and ill-timed."
As they say around here, "Aye, there's the rub."
Lyle, guilty as charged on all other counts, had nothing to do with the timing, which has caused a veritable feeding frenzy that has threatened to engulf British Open week.
The timing came courtesy of an orchestrated attempt by the papers that jointly broke the "news" story Tuesday to maximize the impact of the comments during the season's third major. In the reports, which also appeared in two other U.K. papers Tuesday, Lyle characterized fellow Scotsman Colin Montgomerie as a cheater by dredging up a 4-year-old incident.
A day later, O'Grady, officials with the Royal & Ancient Golf Club and other players were pressed into commenting on what is now being called a "scandal" -- albeit a clearly contrived one. Here's how it went down, and it's disappointing that the typically freewheeling, mega-competitive British papers agreed to sit on the story for six days in order to heighten the impact:
Two highly respected European golf writers interviewed Lyle last week at the Scottish Open. During the broad conversation, Lyle made his unflattering characterization of Monty. Afterward, since it was a busy sports week in the U.K., the writers agreed not to publish the story until the British Open began, because they knew it always causes a stir whenever the word "cheating" and golf are associated. Last week, during an important cricket test match, it would have gotten buried in the sports section.
Talk about sticky wickets.
The plan worked to perfection, swallowing the two players, the tournament and most of the headlines for two days and counting. Lyle said he was awakened by ringing telephones at dawn on Tuesday as friends called to read him the scathing headlines, which included a highly interpretive version of what he had said, "You're a Cheat Monty," in the irreverent Sun of London.
Ugly as the unseemly incident was with Monty and the improper drop in Jakarta that started this whole affair -- Lyle clearly deserves some heat for napalming his countryman shortly before a huge Scottish sports spectacle -- the media handling of the affair reeks nearly as badly.
The canned Lyle comments have, to some degree, overshadowed the tournament, at least as far as the British storylines go. It has been a huge distraction to Monty, the Ryder Cup captain for 2010, during an important week. The committee that selected him as the captain was fully aware that the Jakarta incident would be exhumed, and picked him anyway.
The conniving papers set the timer on the news bombshell to ensure that it detonated in the most public of places and created high casualties. But they sold a slew of papers in the process, by gawd.