During the last round of the Open, Darren Clarke was seen quite clearly to be enjoying a cigarette while out on the course. Unsurprisingly a few people took issue with this. One of them, Eamonn Mallie tweeted his displeasure and disappointment and was, perhaps even less surprisingly, admonished by fans of Darren Clarke. The thing is, Mallie was correct and they, I'm afraid, were wrong. It wasn't just Clarke's smoking that caught my attention though.
Following his win, there was endless talk in the media of the big night that Clarke would surely have. There were direct and indirect references to the amount of alcohol he, his friends & family and his supporters would get through in celebration. Even during his press conference, a pint of Guinness sat in front of him as would a trophy. A couple of days later, a photo emerged of Clarke, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell having a contest to see who could sink a pint of the black stuff the quickest.
I should say at this point that I am the worst kind of anti smoking advocate - I'm a former smoker. I also drink alcohol. Not very often, I might say, but when I do I nearly always end up very drunk. So any accusations of hypocrisy on that score are fair.
With regard to his smoking on the golf course, it is quite simply the wrong image to portray. However, I don't limit that to Clarke. I actually think young kids should never have to see anyone smoking, at any time. A hopeless ideal, no doubt, but one I think it's healthy to aim for. Most people would agree that people smoking in cars whilst their kids are in the same car is a very sorry sight. But that disapproval is mostly based on the proven medical risks involved in that scenario. For me, it is more the example being demonstrated that worries. Unless the child is exposed for significant lengths of time to second hand smoke, it is still unlikely that the child will suffer any serious medical issues.
What is more likely to hurt the child is that eventually, after growing up in an environment where smoking is normal, they themselves will start to smoke. Fortunately, the fact that Darren Clarke having a smoke on the golf course raises the argument, shows that we are already getting to a point where smokers are the exception, rather than the rule and the example of normality is one of not smoking.
When it comes to alcohol it's a different issue. It is foolish to try to compare smoking to drinking because for one, drinking is in many cases a social enhancer, whilst smoking is nearly always the opposite. Drinking is actually pleasurable in itself. Smoking is not. However, there is no doubt that alcohol abuse is a major problem for society, the health service and, consequently, the economy. As such, the right balance has to be found.
I don't begrudge Darren Clarke for celebrating his win in the way he did, but that aspect of the celebration should either be a non story or a negative one. The media should never portray it in the positive light it did. Children reading about it would be left in no doubt that heroes and champions are the sort of men who can drink to excess and continue to do so. That can't be the example we set.
Darren Clarke IS a role model. At least in terms of his approach to his golf. He certainly appears to be a very nice guy and the respect & apparent affection he is afforded from his peers would suggest that he goes about his daily life in the right way. That doesn't mean those of us who criticise his smoking on TV or his compliance with the media's promotion of his drinking can't see the overwhelming positive aspects of his image, we just feel it's important the negative parts are addressed properly.