Europe’s Ryder Cup – more than the sum of the parts

Being an MEP does nothing for my golf game. Golf takes time and practice and I just don’t have the time for either. Neither do I have time to watch much sport on TV, but the Ryder Cup makes riveting viewing because it not golf as we know it.

Golf is the ultimate individual sport. It is also an addiction. There are few  games in which you have no interaction at all with your opponents. You can do nothing to diminish their performance. Meanwhile you play your own game - against yourself and the course but there isn’t much you can do if your opponent is playing the way Tony Finau played today.

Also, golf is one of the few games where the ball isn’t moving while you hit it - so the same ball struck in the same place with the same club with the same force will go in the same direction for the same distance. This means at a very early stage of learning golf you hit one pretty much like that Tiger bloke on the telly. It is a beautiful if short lived high - like crack cocaine (I’m told). That’s what gets you hooked on golf. 

The Ryder Cup an oddity in professional golf because this ultimate team event is composed of largely invidual actions, there is only a very small about of actual team play (the foursomes in which two players take alternate shots using the same ball - accounting for just over 28% of the points in the match) yet the team ethos is nonetheless incredibly infectious.

The Ryder Cup seems to have got bigger and better each time and some of the players seem to transcend their individual form as they thrive under the pressure of representing their team - Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter (pictured above winning his match against world number 1, Dustin Johnson) seem to turn in exceptional performances. Mind you, these are people who play week after week for a great deal of money. In the Ryder Cup they don’t get paid - so I guess it depends what kind of pressure bothers you.

Of course it wasn’t ever thus. The first Ryder Cup was held in 1927 and was between Great Britain and the United States, and expanded out to add Irish players in the 1950s. It was never much of a contest. I vaguely remember there was a close call in the late 60s but GB and Ireland couldn’t compete and there is nothing more boring than the same team always winning - especially when it’s the USA.

So in 1979, after the European Professional Golf Tour had become a serious business, the Ryder Cup was remodelled has been since contested by a team from Europe and team from the United States. Suddenly we had a proper contest, entertainment and everybody involved got to make more money through crowds, sponsorship, TV rights, the whole bit. Even the Americans seemed pleased. 

So the little nation that invented the infernal game (I’m referring to Scotland of course) found itself in a Union with some larger countries and was able to compete with the uppity colonials across the Atlantic. Nobody seriously thinks the Ryder Cup would be better if we went back to being a group of relatively small islands trying to compete against as much bigger nation. Competing under the European Flag and a Swedish, Spanish or Scottish captain is no problem because Justin Rose is no less English and winning is rather fun. 

This seems to have some relevance to where we find ourselves as a nation today, but I don’t want to overdo the metaphor. 

So congratulations to the European Team on a comprehensive 17.5-10.5 victory in which the USA failed to win any of the five sessions. A pity it had to end with Phil Michelson, probably the greatest left-hander in the history of the game, finding the water with his tee shot on 16th - but I dare say he’ll get over it when he next checks his bank account (1). 

A footnote on Golf

I started playing golf when I was working in a company where the rest of the senior management went off to the golf course on a Friday afternoon, I presumed, to talk business. I felt I was missing out and decisions were being taken without my input - so I learnt to play. I found out that they almost never talked business and just used it as an excuse to get away from work early.

I got the golf bug but hated the way golf clubs worked - they were dominated by self-interested, old, dull white guys wearing terrible trousers and tasteless shirts that should have carried at least a suspended sentence. So I avoided joining one for a long time. Luckily along came Tiger Woods, who among his many achievements changed golf clothing for the better through his Nike sponsorship deals. The difference Tiger Woods made is hard to underestimate - it’s great to see him back playing close to his best and winning again. 

I eventually found a club where women were equal to men and where young players male and female were encouraged - even if the club took it all a little too seriously. But there are still far too many golf clubs where the old rules apply. 


(1) Being left-handed is a big disadvantage in golf - or at least that’s what left-handers tell me - and the statistics would seem to support that view.