Team Europe a familiar foe at Ryder Cup
NEWPORT, Wales – On a healthy list of reasons why the Ryder Cup has changed over the years – and not in a positive way, either – near the very top there is this: The mystery is gone.
That’s a reference to the European players, many of whom spend more time playing golf in the United States than some of their American counterparts. Actually, four members of Team Europe here at Celtic Manor – Luke Donald (19), Padraig Harrington (17), Rory McIlroy (15) and Ian Poulter (14) – have played more PGA Tour tournaments than Tiger Woods (12) this season. Donald, in fact, can even match Phil Mickelson’s total, which is why 43 percent of American golf fans in a recent poll said Donald was their favorite Chicago-born golfer. (Only kidding there, but you get the point.)
Long gone are the days when an American player would look across a Ryder Cup tee box and see a European opponent for the first time. That’s too bad, because it added so much flavor to the event.
You think Corey Pavin knew what to expect when he faced Peter Baker in singles in 1993? Certainly, very few U.S. fans envisioned Baker’s 2-up victory.
What American didn’t think Fred Couples was going to waltz past Christy O’Connor Jr. in 1989? But O’Connor’s brilliant second shot into The Belfry’s 18th hole put an exclamation point on a dramatic win and earned a spot in Ryder Cup folklore.
Eamonn Darcy? OK, Ben Crenshaw knew of the Irishman, but how many American golf fans did? That is why Darcy’s singles win in 1987 added great spice to that year’s stunning European upset at Muirfield – the one in Ohio, not Scotland.
Brian Barnes beating Jack Nicklaus not once, but twice, in 1975? Great stuff, even if it didn’t sit well with the Golden Bear.
Antonio Garrido, Manuel Pinero, Jose Rivero, Gordon Brand, Brian Waites, Paul Way, Ronan Rafferty, Steve Richardson, Philip Price, Phillip Walton and David Gilford. They’re just a few of the European names who arrived on the Ryder Cup scene with very little fanfare, but left American fans with a little greater appreciation of European golf.
But oh, how that fabric of the event is gone forever. The 12 members draped in European blue this week are world-class players, which means they play in the majors – three of which are in the U.S. – and the World Golf Championships – all three of which are on American soil.
Because of that, when you crunch the numbers, you’ll discover that these Europeans have played a whopping 126 times in the U.S. this year alone.
None of which is to suggest that the Ryder Cup is taking on a level of passion equal to that of the Presidents Cup, because it’s not. As Colin Montgomerie reminded us, the Ryder Cup remains what it has always been about – “a showcase for European golf . . . and we are doing this for the sake of the European Tour.”
The fact that we now know all of these Europeans and bump into them at their homes in Scottsdale and Lake Nona and Chicago doesn’t change that aspect at all.
That is why the competition remains golf’s best drama. At least, that is, when it finally begins, which we are told will be Friday. Good gracious, we hope so, because as sure as the “jumpers” will be out this week, the lead-up days to the Ryder Cup have become insufferable.
That is why, with so little to embrace and so much time on the hands on these agonizingly boring practice days, there has been ample time to ponder some thoughts about the Ryder Cup. To wit:
• Bit of a mix-up with the media bus route Wednesday morning, which is not a surprise. After all, they’ve only had about four years to plan this thing. No worries, because it provided the opportunity to see where the general public gets dropped off to watch the golf here at Celtic Manor. Some have suggested it’s an obscenely steep, long and winding pathway. Methinks it’s quite manageable – so long as your name is Hermann Maier or Alberto Tomba.
• We’re not sure how much money the PGA of America spent on all these team uniforms, but it’s been rumored to be close to what the national deficit is. Turns out, they could have bought ’em T-shirts and cargo shorts for all you’ll see beneath rainsuits.
• They call it the Twenty Ten Course. Get it? One can imagine that if NFL officials were in charge here, it would be the XX X Course.
• Which makes me wonder if they’ve ever thought of re-naming that track in Louisville, Ky., the Twenty Oh Eight Course. Somehow, it’s a softer and more pleasing name and doesn’t strike fear into your travel plans like hearing the word “Valhalla.”
• Jose Manuel Barroso will be part of Thursday’s opening ceremony. Rumor has it he’s the president of the European Commission. Could have sworn he was one of Seve Ballesteros’ early foursomes partners for a Ryder Cup.
• The Ryder Cup opening ceremony has become such a massive affair, with so much work and so much money poured into it, that starting in 2012 they might have to spread it out over Wednesday and Thursday.
• There was an erroneous story that Donald came over from the Tour Championship aboard the Team USA charter. But would he take the American plane back to the U.S.? “Maybe,” Donald said. “Just to gloat.” When he heard that, Jim Furyk shook his head and said, “You shouldn’t gloat at 165 pounds.” The tabloid crowd could jump on that as a war of words of some sort, but let the record show, both guys were just having some fun. Donald and Furyk are not the trash-talking types.
• When players and captains are interviewed, Ryder Cup officials make sure they sit or stand in front of a background splattered with logos – Rolex, Citi, Emirates, KPMG, BMW, the Ryder Cup. It’s sort of like playing the “Where’s Waldo?” game.
• Help me out here: How many PGA Tour tournaments did Lisa Pavin win?