2002: BBC an ear-opening experience
Sutton Coldfield, England
These are the absolutes of a Ryder Cup at The Belfry. If you wear high heels for miles of hilly walks, you will no longer have feet. You must strategically maneuver in and around massive crowds in an attempt to get a glimpse of stars such as Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia and Elin Nordegren inside the ropes. And you will come across a few grown men wearing kilts, plus 4s and Burberry hats and shirts, something not witnessed at, say, the Colonial in macho Fort Worth.
But, by far most important, you should never, ever, never set foot on the course without first plopping down 8 pounds for a tiny radio and accompanying earpiece. That equipment is worth at least 80 pounds, roughly a third of Colin Montgomerie’s weight.
Without a radio, you’re deprived of two valuable things: Some semblance of what the hell is going on, and gut-busting comedy from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
I speak, of course, of BBC 5 Live, or 87.7 on your FM dial. BBC 5 Live airs every second of the Ryder Cup, and its broadcasts are, among other things, funnier than Benny Hill. There’s nothing better to have out there with you, even if liquor were allowed on the course. I’d shell out high Pay-Per-Listen fees for BBC 5 Live’s play-by-play.
Among other things, you get incessant, snappy English lingo. A great match or shot is a “real cracker.” David Toms is a Ryder Cup “debutante.” Break on the green is “borrow.” Tired is “knackered.” A ball plugged in a bunker is in a “fair bit of bother.” A “pig of a lie” is not good. In other words, you don’t “fancy” a pig of a lie.
There’s more talking on a BBC 5 Live Ryder Cup broadcast than on any Lakers game Chick Hearn ever did. You hear of a “grizzly morning” and “fluffed effort.” You learn that Europe takes a plural verb, as in, “Europe win the hole.” That the pronunciation of Sergio Garcia’s surname is “Garth-THEE-ah.” That a missed putt “stays above ground.” That “level pegging” means a tie score. That excellence means “just top marks.”
A BBC 5 Live Ryder Cup broadcast is nothing if not a stream of constant overstatement and hyperbole. Shots after shots are “brilliant!” and “magnificent!” and “elegant!” and “spot on!” Excitable announcers shout, “Oh, goodness gracious!” One went so far as to say Garcia is “better from the trees than from the middle of the fairway.” Another yelled of a short putt, “It’s quick, it’s awkward, it’s pressurized!”
(We take this short station break to point out other things you were certain to encounter at the Ryder Cup: Electricity in the air, goose bumps, long waits for buses, leg-weary fans taking ibuprofen, thousands of men checking out Woods’ girlfriend Elin, metal periscopes, annoying 4-foot-high advertising boards around tees that blocked spectator views, free Pfizer visors no men seemed to want, a ratio of at least 10 men to every woman in the gallery, and two Victor Chandler betting shops on the grounds known as the Official Betting Units. Now, gladly, back to the BBC 5 Live.)
I will miss BBC 5 Live dearly in America. Where else do you get this?
“If Europe win this hole, it could be an absolute hammer blow!”
“Let’s just hope (Colin Montgomerie’s) head isn’t filled with too many permutations!”
“David Toms is 35 years old. When did he come out of the woodwork?”
“A big man, Mark Calcavecchia. You wouldn’t want to run into him.”
“My concern is Tiger Woods is so good at these shots.”
On Scott Hoch: “Here is this aggressive little man.” And, “Hoch is a curmudgeon. Brilliant English word, curmudgeon.”
“I can’t take it! I’ve got to get a cup of coffee or something! This is too much! . . . This is nerve-tingling stuff!”
“Very scratchily, Europe remain 1 up.”
In due time, though, you realize it’s unwise to take as gospel everything spewed out. Because BBC 5 Live roving reporters couldn’t always see the action, what they suspected to be a 60-foot putt sometimes actually measured closer to 40. A 6-footer might be 12. A ball in a bunker might not be.
A couple of BBC experts maintained that “Tiger Woods is no team player.” That would be true except for the small fact that there is no golf team in the universe that wouldn’t want Woods in its lineup.
They suggested on the first day of the Ryder Cup that perhaps U.S. captain Curtis Strange should sit Woods out one session. The opinion here is that would not have been a brilliant move, but it would’ve been a real hammer blow to reasonable minds.
One BBC voice said the gallery featured a “lot of Americans in Tiger-striped trousers.” That is true if two means a lot.
Another called Paul Azinger a “British Open champion.” That might be true if you disregard Nick Faldo’s 18 pars in the final round of the 1987 Open at Muirfield and Azinger’s bogey-bogey finish.
And in a discussion about news media covering the Ryder Cup, a self-deprecating announcer said this of the BBC 5 Live golf crew: “We are the lowest of the low.”
Thousands of ears know better.