by G. Rennie
San Francisco’s refurbished public gem, Harding Park, hosted the opening foursomes matches yesterday in the 8th playing of The President’s Cup. Unlike the Ryder Cup the pre-event hoopla for this US Team versus International Team four day tussle is just about non-existent. And I like that. I think it’s more in keeping with the stoic nature of the game as originally played by the Scots and also more similar to the comportment of the first 70 years of the Ryder Cup.
So, straight up, Ryder Cup vs Presidents Cup, I’d take the junior contest due to its lack of pretension, hyperbole and atmosphere of fun.
Not everyone agrees with me on this one. For instance, the wise men of the pen who sport their opinions on the Golf Channel’s Grey Goose 19th Hole think this biennial game is at best minor league. John Hawkins’s was pretty dismissive about the impact and importance of the President’s cup: at most, he said it was a “nice event” with a sprinkling of the game’s best players. Jeff Rude called the event “Ryder Cup Lite” but was slightly more appreciative of the contest than the Angry Golfer Hawkins. I was surprised to hear these opinions since I think these are two talented, well informed, savvy golf journalists whose work I typically find informative and often amusing. Hawkins especially seemed to miss the presence of the US Versus the Other Guys mentality and hype that has come to all but engulf the Ryder Cup. I don’t get that but one man’s meat is another man’s poison.
My disaffection with the jingoism that characterizes The Ryder Cup, on both sides of the Atlantic now, has its roots in one of the US sides most notable victories, the Sunday comeback in Brookline. I was lucky enough to be at the Country Club that day and it still stands as one of the most exceptional group experiences I’ve ever been in. It became suddenly clear to me that we had all slid into some twilight zone of fandom when the Iceman himself, David Duval, sank a birdie putt on number four and began to whoop and whip the crowd into a frenzy. Things had started out on a rip roaring way when the early guys, Tom Lehman, Davis Love III, Phil Mickelson and Hal Sutton, jumped out to quick leads. I caught onto the Colin Montgomerie-Payne Stewart match on the front side and was embarrassed for the game and my country at how many in the crowd heckled and provoked Monty. Much of that lost pride was restored during that match through the great sportsmanship and class exhibited by Stewart. That type of gentlemanly concern for your opponent and the proper playing of the game, even in the heat of the most pressure packed contest, is what sets golf apart from all other sporting contests.
Unfortunately, Payne Stewart is no longer with us and, I think, that the true sporting demeanor of golf is also absent whenever the Ryder Cup rolls around. It’s turned into the Hatfield’s versus the McCoy’s, or worse, and the governing bodies on both sides of the pond seem not to mind. Certainly the PGA and NBC, the TV outlet for the event promote it like it’s WW III.
I don’t know if we can walk back from the edge, the partisanship and warlike mentality that dominate the event won’t dissipate on its own. It will take true leadership from the powers that be to try to turn the tide. I don’t see it happening. So, give me the “Ryder Cup Lite”.