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Why the Ryder Cup is great

The bi-annual clash between Europe and the US is the greatest show in golf

September 28, 2018

5:44 AM

28 September 2018

5:44 AM

I made no time for the Blasey Ford testimony, and never do for the NFL, but the TV will be on for Ryder Cup this weekend, the greatest show in golf. The bi-annual Europe v. America spectacle is being held at Le Golf National, a relatively new course outside of Paris this year, which seems odd because golf has few roots in France. But tens of thousands of French people will be going, and tens thousands more will journey from Britain and Ireland and the continent. Since 1979, when our Ryder Cup opponents became European (because postwar, the US was beating the British-Irish team too consistently) the Euro team has become one of the few well-regarded symbols of a united Europe, in counterpoint to the sovereignty threatening bureaucrats of Brussels. With prepared chants and songs European fans will bring to the matches soccer crowd type intensity, and players who have mastered pressures of tournament golf almost universally claim that there’s no pressure like Ryder Cup. Since the mid Eighties, European teams – spurred by the late great Seve Ballesteros – have begun to dominate the Americans, winning roughly two contests out of every three, many of them not even close. For Americans, who usually have had more top ranked individual golfers on their team, the results have come as a near spiritual rebuke and a source for endless self-reflection along the theme. Why do Americans seem to choke in the team competition?

It’s one of the story lines which makes the Ryder Cup great viewing: Americans are the underdog, especially on European soil, where they haven’t won in a quarter century. Another is its match play, the 18 holes played as 18 individual separate contests – which is the way most amateurs compete at golf: if you screw up a hole, you can move onto the next, or hope your partner can bail you out. It makes for more dramatic, more interactive spectating – as shot selection is at least somewhat influenced by what one’s opponent has just done.

A third reason is Tiger Woods. Like more golf fans than would admit it, I was not a Tiger enthusiast during his amazing prime. I didn’t care for the overly exuberant fist pumps, the slightly veiled arrogance (‘I didn’t have my A game today’) and most of all that he could drain all the drama out of a tournament one wanted to watch by seizing a double digit lead by Friday afternoon. That’s changed completely. The 2009 humiliations, the divorce, the struggles with four surgeries and an obviously painful back, the DUI arrest, the persistent rumors of pain-killer addiction, the sometimes embarrassingly poor play, and his publicly expressed worries about never being able to really play again have made his resurgence this year one of the most compelling sports stories in my lifetime. The new Tiger has mellowed, reveals more to the press, is a great teammate, has always been super knowledgeable about golf. Now at 42, on top of an emotional victory at the Tour Championship the he has reemerged at least for now as one of the top players in the game: who can fail to be touched by this tale of grit and redemption.

There are other Yanks I’ll be rooting for too: bad boy Patrick Reed, aka ‘Captain America’, a talented trash-talker who hasn’t spoken to his parents in years because they disapproved of his fiancée; good boy Tony Finau, a Mormon of Samoan origin, father of four at age 29, who struggled long on the minitours before finally emerging as a star this year – each a rebuke to the PGA tours cookie cutter image. And I’ll be rooting for the Europeans too, Sergio and McIlroy, and the irrepressible Poulter, who manages to play top flight golf with an accountant’s body and has a history of slaying Americans in the Ryder Cup.

Does the Trump presidency and his frequent dissing of Europe give the contest a further edge? I have doubts about this: my guess is that the fans who flock to Le Golf National this weekend aren’t avid Merkel supporters or fans of Brussels, and many feel the same way Trump does about a lot of things. Soviet Russia v. Czechoslovakia in hockey this is not. So while I want to see Jordan Spieth make some clutch putts (and recover his lost mojo for the next season) and the classy Molinari and Justin Rose exhibit grace under pressure, and Phil do amazing things around the greens, I’m not sure I really care who wins. But I won’t miss a beat.

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