Romance of peripheral competitions fails to attract top players
Seve Trophy is starting to fade into irrelevance
Ian Poulter: Admitted that he can’t play everywhere. Getty Images/Inpho
Some activities really are designed to be done solo, even if they can be construed as spectator sports. That’s why this week’s top-flight international golf action is being so eagerly anticipated, right?
In case you haven’t noticed, it’s that time of year when professional golf gets to keep it real, like, and indulge in the sort of grim team building that corporate types like to inflict on resentful staff who’d really rather watch telly at home instead of spending their free time learning how there’s “no I in team” with colleagues they’d normally pay to avoid.
Golf is great for that kind of stuff, much more tasteful than burning rubber around a go-kart track, or squirting paint at weirdos who like to dress up in uniforms: golf is all about teams, and clubs and rubbing along with each other, right?
Well, no, it isn’t. Golf is about a lot of things, much of them naff and regrettable, but what it is mostly about is “I”.
It’s easy to forget that at your local club sometimes, watching endless lines of three-ways, or foursomes, or other erotically-charged descriptions of what is basically a logistically refined method of getting as many members into action as efficiently as possible.
But underneath all that back-slapping, polo-shirted bonhomie is a raging desire to be alone, to have the course to yourself, a blank canvas on which to hack and top and slice without any smart comment from Bill in accounts. Some time to line up a putt without bastards from the chamber of commerce tut-tutting at being held up behind you; a chance to attack the course and aim at a score without having to worry about whether or not the partner is up to hitting a left-to-right drive at 13.
There can’t be a golfer alive who’d rather play solo, or alongside just one other to preserve the illusion of near-pro proficiency and allow the slide show of what it might be like to be on tour skip through their mind’s eye. Because that’s golf, you against the course, not the phoney imposition of teams, although it would be nice to shove one up that Des from the bank, now there really is a w*****r
Anyway, the pros are getting a reminder of their golf club heritage this week. Or at least some of them are. The top half dozen players in Britain and Ireland, all of them Ryder Cup veterans from last year’s Miracle in Medinah, have decided to skip the Seve Trophy in Paris, an event where GB and Ireland take on the rest of Europe.
America’s top players though have rallied to the flag for the President’s Cup in Muirfield Village where “USA,USA!” tackle the rest of the world, or at least the bit that doesn’t include Europe, or GB or Ireland.
It’s nearly 20 years since the Presidents Cup began, piggy-backing on the success of the Ryder Cup, ostensibly allowing the rest of the world a chance of international team competition but in reality pouncing on a new commercial opportunity. The Seve Trophy started in 2000, also capitalising on TV potential while wrapping it in the near-universal affection for the late Seve Ballesteros.
But Seve’s gone and so it appears is any enthusiasm for the tournament that bears his name. Rory, G-Mac & Co are getting some heat over the absence, and it’s hard not to admire their Ryder Cup colleague Paul Lawrie after he noted, “My God, most of us are out here playing because of what he [Seve] did years ago.”
Admirable as the sentiment is, though, it ignores blunt financial realities such as TV money and a crammed playing schedule which means something has to give. And guess what, the top players have voted with their feet and sided with the real tournament deal rather than the sideshow which this week’s stuff largely represents.
That may not be very gracious and it certainly contains no nod to sentiment, but it does at least contain the virtue of being straightforward.
And it reflects the reality of how golf at its core is not a team game. The Ryder Cup is an exception in terms of relevance. But it is very much an exception, with much of it due to European chippiness at perceived American arrogance and a resultant US backlash reflective of a flag-waving urge that at least serves as an anaesthesia to more unfortunate bellicose instincts.
But trying to pin a collective ethos on to such an individual game is otherwise destined to fail. The Presidents Cup is a yawn because the Americans never lose. The international team has secured one draw in two decades. And much as the man who defined himself by the Ryder Cup is missed, the Seve Trophy is starting to fade into irrelevance.
If Europe as an entity appears to work for millions in the Ryder Cup, then splitting that team for the sake of another competition starts to look like a behind the scenes training match.
Where’s the competitive needle between players who were on the same side but now have to tag their passions to an arbitrary alignment?
Even Ian Poulter, that tabloid embodiment of British bulldog spirit, has honestly admitted that he can’t play everywhere and his absence from Paris is a brutal reminder of its peripheral status.
Poulter famously loves playing the Ryder Cup, loves the whole team vibe that goes with it. But obviously that love of team stretches only so far.
A reminder perhaps that golf really is spelt with an “I”.