by G. Rennie
Let’s play some golf, please! It’s been a long week full of hot air and bluster from all the interested parties that surround the two Ryder Cup teams. At last, this orgy of talk will turn into a bonanza of match play golf at its most tense. Bring it on.
Absent from the war of wagging tongues, the two Ryder Cup captains have been extremely low key, engaged in a calm conversation with the media and ever respectful of their opponents. Their toned down demeanor gives appropriate respect to the game and is mindful of the original intent of these matches, conceived as an international exhibition to promote the game and celebrate a gentlemanly competition.
It hasn’t always been such. Partisanship has escalated, as everyone knows, after the Great Britain & Ireland team was expanded to the whole of continental Europe in 1979. Once the Euro’s were able to field a competitive team it seemed the stakes got ratcheted up and on course demonstrations of fervor, and perhaps gamesmanship, became commonplace. As a consequence, there’s been some enmity and blood on the grass, so to speak, between a number of the Americans and Euro’s but those guys have been angelic when compared to the tabloid press often full of venom, and worst of all, the sometimes rabid and unruly galleries.
The level of antagonism that has grown up with this event seems to revolve around a sense of national identity. Surprisingly, it doesn’t happen at all during President’s Cup competition. I think that has to do with the very ambiguous, undefined nature of the competition – The International Team. Where exactly does an International come from? From all kinds of places that most of us don’t know exist or couldn’t point out on a map. Fiji? That’s a fruit, right? Zimbabwe? Oooh, never been there (wouldn’t want to go). The point is the casual golf fan doesn’t get incensed over a match with a country that most folks don’t have a connection with.
But that’s not the case with Europe. We all know that’s across an ocean someplace and most of our forefathers escaped or got kicked out of one of its member nations. Why those Brits, Frenchman, Spaniards, Irish and assorted other foreigners inspire such raucous behavior from typically sedate golf fans is still a mystery to me. Yet the fact that they do gives me lot of ambivalence about the Ryder Cup matches. And I hate that because I’m a golf junkie, glued to the tube for all the competitive golf I can get.
Ambivalence can turn to aversion when you find yourself in the middle of the crazies and not plunked in your easy chair. That was the case for me in 1999, at Brookline, on the Sunday that Ben Crenshaw twisted Fate to his own design and brought home the Cup. The atmosphere was unreal early that day as match after match went the USA way. But from the get go, the dark side of partisanship crawled out from under its rock and stalked the Payne Stewart-Colin Montgomery match. I followed that pairing for several holes on the front side but gave it up in disgust as crude, rowdy individuals (they can’t be called golf fans) heckled Monty without mercy. Payne Stewart was at his best that day, rising to Monty’s defense, getting some jackasses tossed off the grounds, and finally, conceding the final 20 foot putt, to hand Monty the hole, the match and the full point. Many in the gallery couldn’t appreciate this demonstration of true sportsmanship.
Not all the hooligans at Brookline that day were in the Stewart-Montgomery crowd. Some were following the late stages of the Leonard-Olazabal match- and they weren’t in the crowd, they were on the American Team or part of their entourage. Much of that group trampled the tradition of the Ryder Cup along with their own dignity as they stormed the 17th green after Leonard dropped his bomb. Waiting off the side of the green was Jose Maria who had a longish putt for the halve. Jehovah himself couldn’t have holed that putt after such a dance of self indulgence.
Olazabal has been a stalwart of Europe’s team since ’87 when, teamed with Seve, he helped win the Cup on American soil for the first time. Now that he’s back on American soil, captain of the European Team. It might be that the good karma we all need in this golfing world can be restored. It’s going to take spirited, expert play from all the golfers; calm, reserved inspiration of those players by their captains; professional restraint from the media types; and simple, good sportsmanship from all the lucky folks in the gallery. I’m hoping.