Ryder Cup Review
By Iain Carter.
Hazeltine was the tenth Ryder Cup I have attended and it was like no other golf event I have ever experienced.
Much was made of the crowd antics during the United States 17-10 victory over Europe and yes, there were too many fans who overstepped the mark in terms of their rowdy behaviour. But it must be stressed the constituency of idiots among the raucous throngs of American supporters made up a minuscule percentage of the galleries. The rest generated a captivating atmosphere that made it such a memorable occasion. Never before have I been to a golf event where ahead of play rock music has been continuously piped through speakers on the first tee. And initially it felt incongruous for a sport famed for its quiet decorum.
However, it soon became clear that the music set a tone suggesting fans could shed inhibitions and enjoy the match like they would at any other partisan sporting occasion. And so players would arrive for their opening drives to a setting that left no one in any doubt about the gladiatorial nature of the contest that the Ryder Cup has become. Long before their arrival, the large L shaped stand that covered two sides of the first teeing ground was rocking. Chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A” and “I BELIEVE WE WILL WIN” rang out as fans animatedly waved their stars and stripes flags. There was a fair smattering of European support as well and they sang “Ole`, Ole`,Ole`” just as heartily. It made for good natured banter and a thoroughly warranted sense of competition.
Naturally, the vast majority were golfing aficionados and they knew how to behave – to remain still and silent as shots were played. Others were general sports fans who were left in no doubt about the spectacle of which they were part. For golf these were the key people, future golfers won over by the three days of intense competition. They would, surely, leave having been made fully aware of the greatness of the game. And then there were the idiots. The beer-fueled, foul mouthed louts incapable of summoning the self-control required to be part of a golfing gallery. They would bellow their insults, make their inappropriate wise cracks and on the odd occasion disturb the golfers as they prepared to play crucial shots. They could easily have spoiled it for the rest.
Certainly they made life less pleasant for the competitors and they drew the ire of the genuine golf fans. Crucially, though, the proper supporters were quick to identify the culprits and by the Sunday they were being swiftly ejected. Sadly, when you sell 55,000 tickets a day, whip the recipients into a sense of frenzy and offer plenty of “beverage oasis” facilities (beer tents) you will attract a handful of morons. But that was a sacrifice worth making. Rarely have we witnessed such vast crowds around individual holes and it provided an awe-inspiring spectacle. The scenes around holes such as the fifteenth and sixteenth were extraordinary. This was big-time sport being played by some of the greatest exponents and it brought out the best in them.
In the Saturday fourballs Patrick Reed, of the United States, played magnificently to single handedly down Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose. Reed’s partner Jordan Spieth was a mere passenger. When the match arrived at the sixteenth, Reed played an exquisite bunker shot that meant Stenson needed to chip in to keep the match alive. There must have been 30,000 fans around that single hole – it certainly felt that way. Stenson duly obliged, delicately holing out from the side of the green to ensure the contest would last another hole. It was top level golf in all its glory.
The next day I had the privilege of commentating for BBC 5Live on Reed’s epic singles against Rory McIlroy. On the front nine they traded birdie after birdie and the US star threw in an eagle on the fifth for good measure. These two titans were producing their very best golf through raw competitive desire. There wasn’t a cent on the line, just the incentive of a crucial point to help the cause of their respective teams. At the eighth McIlroy rammed home a 60 footer and Reed followed him in from around 25 feet as the hole was halved in birdie twos. McIlroy had cupped his hand his ear bellowing “I can’t hear you” as he bated the crowd. The fans, of course, then were sent into raptures as their man proved equal to Europe’s top player. Reed went beserk. It was pure sporting theatre. And then both players shared a smile and touched knuckles en route to the ninth tee. It was a show of sporting respect that perfectly summed up what the Ryder Cup is all about.
Indeed, that one hole told us all we needed to know about the greatness of this biennial festival. “We’ve had everything here,” I yelled into my microphone, hoping to be heard above the deafening din. We had witnessed putting of the highest quality under the most intense pressure and in a cauldron of sporting hostility. Yet neither player lost sight of the fact they were sharing in something very special or their high regard for each other. Reed went on to complete a vital win on the final green as the US edged towards their first Ryder Cup victory for eight years.
We could pick through the ruins of the European capitulation. Did captain Darren Clarke rely to heavily on the experience of Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer? Undoubtedly, yes. Did he have too little faith in rookies like Chris Wood, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Rafael Cabrera-Bello? Certainly. Was Danny Willett’s debut undermined by his brother’s ill-timed article that week, slagging off American golf fans? No question. And were the re-energised, more organised and motivated Americans just too strong for the inexperienced Europeans? Definitely. But was it a great three days of golf? Did the sport, showcased in this way, appeal to a broader set of sports fans? Was new life breathed into the Ryder Cup? You bet your life.
How long do we have to wait for the next one? Too long.