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European Tour head George O'Grady adds to Sergio Garcia controversy

By John Huggan

VIRGINIA WATER, England -- Another day, yet another apology. Just when it looked like the opening round of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth might just pass without any major off-course talking point other than the unseasonably chilly weather, European Tour executive director George O'Grady -- of all people -- perpetrated the second race-related gaffe of the week.

Related: Golf's most regrettable interviews

Speaking on Sky television, the Ulster-born official was asked about Sergio Garcia and the Spaniard's already infamous comments regarding the dietary requirements of Tiger Woods during the upcoming U.S. Open. "I will have him over for dinner every night," said Garcia (in what O'Grady claimed was "a light-hearted remark that backfired"). "And we will serve him fried chicken."

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Photo by Getty Images

Anyway, in a further and equally vain attempt to support Garcia, O'Grady felt moved to reveal: "Most of Sergio's friends in the States happen to be colored athletes." And that, "We accept all races on the European Tour." And that, "There is no need for any further disciplinary action" (ignoring the fact that there has so far been no official disciplinary action taken against Garcia).

All of which might have been fine half a century ago, a time before "black" replaced "colored" as an acceptable description for African-Americans. But not now. And especially not this week.

O'Grady, not surprisingly, was quickly apprised of his error, after which he released a one-line statement: "I deeply regret using an inappropriate word in a live interview for Sky Sports for which I unreservedly apologize."

Well, that's all right then, as long as everyone is prepared to accept complete ignorance on the part of the accused as a legitimate defense. Or that being completely out of touch with the modern world also represents a reasonable explanation for such a blatant faux pas.

Neither is, of course. But O'Grady -- who has worked for the European Tour since 1974 -- should know better. Indeed, he must know better. If those charged with the administration of golf cannot be trusted to navigate what is admittedly becoming something of a racial minefield, what chance have those more casually involved?

Related: Sergio's bad joke stemmed from ignorance, not racism

The problem this time, of course, is partly generational -- O'Grady is 64-years old -- but also speaks to a wider malaise within the game. Quite simply, today's golf world isn't even a close facsimile of society as a whole, the result, perhaps, of a system that is too often exclusive rather than inclusive. Much work -- still ongoing -- has been done to rectify that situation, but if ever there was an indication of just how far golf has to go, then the extent to which O'Grady is out of touch represents a clear signal.

Employed by the same organization for nearly four decades, it is safe to assume O'Grady's working life has not produced a wide range of experiences with a wide range of people. Like most in the golf industry, O'Grady will have spent most of his time with people who look a lot like him -- middle-aged, middle-class and white. The wider world in the 21st century does not look like that. Not even close. Quite clearly, George -- and golf --- needs to get out more.

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July 28, 2014

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