The Biggest Happening In Golf
Recognized as the world’s greatest golf match, the Ryder Cup is played once every two years and has twenty-four of the best golfers from the United States and Europe competing in a 3-day multi-format rivalry where second place is basically last. The winning team retains the trophy nominally, and the bragging rights are trumpeted until the next biennial event.
Each team consists of only 12 players a side, yet every Ryder Cup is marketed as more epic, more exciting, more dramatic, and more legendary than the one before. This operating procedure seems to be consistent with any major sporting event nowadays, but how does an ancient sport steeped in a hot cup of self-control, etiquette and integrity become this larger-than-life happening that draws nearly half a billion TV viewers worldwide?
Originally, the Ryder Cup was created to promote the camaraderie and good spirits between England and the U.S. in a gentleman’s game of ball striking.
I trust that the effect of this match will be to influence a cordial, friendly and peaceful feeling throughout the whole civilized world… I look upon the Royal and Ancient game as being a powerful force that influences the best things in humanity.
Times change, or decay if you prefer, and today the long standing rivalry between two continents encourages savage men to drink over-priced alcohol and shout frenzied hurrays toward the same common victory. Mobs of imbeciles work themselves into a blind frenzy and chant U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! as if they were watching an illegal kick-boxing tournament from the film Bloodsport. The hostility is taken to new lows when they shout belligerently at European players or “Get in the water!” when they tee off. The contemptible fashion is further modeled by fans wearing obnoxious, roundhouse kicking pants made from the stars and stripes of an oligarchy. This surely is not the civilized world Samuel Ryder once knew but the Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World that Hollywood gave us in 1963.
However, it would be wrong to characterize all individual fans with such poor sportsmanship when the rowdy buffoons represent a minority. Still, their crowd is sizable and the extent of interruptions to fair play make generalities appropriate.
But it’s difficult not to become enthralled by the event when you are thrown into the sea of thrashing exuberance that has fans screaming out in ecstasy every time a ball is struck. Let go of golf’s decencies and sport etiquette and you find yourself in a surreal adventure, caught in the moment, experiencing stadium golf at its rudest height. You feel the crowd’s oohs, boos, hisses and awes course through your veins like a drug tickling your heart to beat faster and faster. An uncomfortable compulsion swells in your chest to unite with the congregational roar and become absorbed into it, creating unity like the single cells of some larger organism.
The curious conduct of Ryder Cup fans has been blossoming since the first matches began in 1927 but only in the past 25 years has their disrespectful nature finally exploded into a shitstorm of unfriendliness. Consider there is little difference between watching play unfold during a high school golf tournament versus a PGA tournament versus the Ryder Cup. The psychological curiosities of these American sports fans and their collective hostilities towards European players would give B.F. Skinner a hard on.
The Ryder Cup is but a heavily commercialized, overhyped Gong Show, but it somehow manages to live up to its own infamous glory because of the millions fans who buy into the mania. Without them, it’s just another good walk spoiled.
These Guys Are Good
There are an estimated 29 million golfers in America and the U.S. Ryder cup team has the best 12. They are the country’s top 0.0000004%, an elite group of golfers each at the peak of their game.
The selection process for Ryder Cup players differs somewhat between the United States and European teams, but for most of the roster, it all comes down to how well the golfer has played during the previous year leading up to the tournament. Points are awarded for their cash winnings and the top 8 players are guaranteed a spot on the team. The remaining positions are left as captain picks and which typically go to other highly ranked players or sometimes to a talented youngster on a hot streak.
It’s no joke these guys are good. The confidence and focus they show on the practice range and course is nothing short of inspiring. Their silky golf strokes launch Titleist golf balls into penetrating trajectories with just a flick of their forearms and perfected swing planes. Just to hear the sound of their impact is captivating. Spectators crowd fences in an intoxicated study of swing mechanics, lusting after unspoken clues and techniques that could be just the thing needed for their own novice approaches to the game.
The athletes look the part too. Decked out in patriotic clothing from Ralph Lauren, they exemplify what every aspiring golfer wishes to be – godlike in their ability, virtuous in their demeanor all the while exhibiting the chicness of Vogue Magazine.
Funny thing though, Ryder Cup players are not officially paid for their heroic trials but are instead rewarded with the special memories and the self valued honor of representing one’s country. But remember, when athletes play for their country, they’re also playing for all the crackheads, pedophiles, bigots, corporatocracies, political corruption, and so on. They can’t simply pick and choose from an hors d’oeuvre plate of positive traits to represent. It’s all or nothing.
Regardless of that footnote, players of today must feel an immense pressure to perform because of the consequential weight of disappointment. If they miss a 5-foot putt for a halve, they’re not letting themselves down but their entire team and country. One can imagine needing nerves of steel and a couple stiff drinks to steady the ship before hoisting the sails.
The dark irony of the whole pro bono situation is that the single event generates hundreds of millions in economic impact, and many, including Tiger Woods, have questioned whether players should be paid for their time and hard work when others are left to profit from it.
But should players be paid? No, and neither should the PGA, or any other vendor for that matter. No other sporting event, except the Olympics, can match the backward meaning of its original purpose.
In 1927, Samuel Ryder created the match because of his love of the game and to share the camaraderie of goodwill with his fellow man. His vision was to bring people together, not pit them against each other in a tasteless dog fight so people holding the leashes could exchange money.
The massive revenues in their entirety could be spent on humanitarian ventures to keep par with with the original philanthropist’s mission – an all profits to charity direction not unlike Newman’s Own. Ticket holders would then find the $30 for truck stop quality lunches fulfilling if they knew the money was being spent to transform lives and nourish the common good.
Where Legends Are Forged
The 2016 Ryder Cup took place at Hazeltine National Golf Club, in Chaska, MN. The renowned golf course architect, Robert Trent Jones, designed the championship course to test golfers with a long and demanding layout. The Ryder Cup length played at 7,628 yards with the par-5s averaging over 600 yards.
Course architects designing for tournament play must make use of artificial or natural mounds and slopes along fairways and greens to create amphitheater affects for spectators and provide as many viewing areas as possible. Wide births between holes create the bandwidth needed for pedestrian and staff traffic.
Hazeltine attendance was capped at 40,000 fans per day during the matches. Much like any major sporting event, the infrastructure of modern conveniences was needed on the course so fans could observe, graze and defecate. A small city of shops, booths, food stands and rest areas were erected like Tinker Toys to accommodate the masses. Giant pavilions stood high on elevated platforms near the course entrance, temporary bleachers perched near every green, and brand new, portable johnnies were wonderfully scented before the first depositors. Even the course itself was in beautiful shape, manicured better than a mother scrubbing around her son’s toilet with a toothbrush.
Also in the past, Hazeltine has played host to several U.S. Open tournaments for both Men And Women, the 2006 U.S. Amateur Championship, as well as the 2002 and 2009 PGA Championships.
It’s interesting that for a state having five months of nice weather per year it also has the most golfers per capita in the U.S., which goes to show just how popular golf is in the land of 10,000 lakes. In fact, Minnesota is the only state to have hosted all 13 USGA Championships, plus the Walker Cup, Curtis Cup, Solheim Cup, and now the Ryder Cup. That collective feat deserves a Tiger Woods fist pump, or at least a trophy.
Worth It’s Weight In Gold
The Ryder Cup is definitely the most iconic trophy in golf, much in the same way the Stanley Cup is to hockey or the Gentlemen’s Singles Trophy of Wimbledon is to tennis. The cup stands 17 inches tall, weighs 4 pounds and is made from 14 karat gold, and everyone in golf recognizes the glorious accomplishment the hunk of metal symbolizes.
The original trophy was bequeathed to the PGA of Britain and Ireland by Samuel Ryder and remains in the United Kingdom though replicas are in use by the PGA of America and promotional events, like picture taking.
The rich history and grandeur of the Ryder Cup can easily put ideas into my warped mind. I had considered purchasing a brass replica of the eminent trophy and running around the tournament grounds like a deranged lunatic without wearing pantaloons so bewildered onlookers could gawk and point.
The gold duplicate would be held high in my hands in an effort to coerce bystanders into believing I had stolen the priceless artifact and was indeed making a break for it. I would give my flight path to a hired photographer and my only pleasure would come from the dashing photographs I would receive afterward.
But would the illusion work or would I only receive responses in the form of disposable social media posts? What could motivate a spectator enough to kick up a dust storm after me in a desperate, do-or-die rescue attempt for a reproduction? Mind you, I wouldn’t be wearing any pants.
Regardless of how sublime that fantasy was, I’m not in shape and am still pending on the decision to order the replica. But maybe for next time!