The worst place to watch a Ryder Cup is always at the course. The crowds are too big, there’s too little golf to spread them out across the course, the price of a coffee and a bun from the tented village would nearly buy you a new TV on which to watch it at home. Most of all, the state of the match is impossible to track while you’re ducking between armpits at the back of the 13th green. The people who go to Rome next week will miss most of the Ryder Cup.
The flip side is that when you’re there, you get to experience some of the wealthiest, fussiest, most cosseted sportsmen on the planet being driven exquisitely round the bend. If you had to rank the things pro golfers aren’t used to, high up any list are (a) playing in noise, (b) relying on anyone but themselves and (c) teeing it up for free. The Ryder Cup brings all three of these, all at the same time.
And it sends them loopy. Above all else, that’s the great thing about it. Every player who ever gets caught up in it says the same thing — that when you’re in it, nothing in the sport feels as heavy or as serious as the Ryder Cup. They whiff drives and duff chips and miss tiddlers, all because their minds get turned to risotto. Get close enough next week and you’ll see some of the best players in the world reduced to jelly by the pure emotion of it all.
The Ryder Cup is different. For three days out of every 730, some of the best golfers in the world are expected to turn into bug-eyed maniacs every time they make an 8ft putt
It’s a unique thing. Emotion is no added extra in the Ryder Cup. It comes as part of the package, so much so that most players feel they have no choice but to lean into it. That’s not usually the case. Not in golf, not in really any elite-level sport. The key, generally, is to take emotion out of the equation. Fire in the belly, ice in the veins, all that jazz.
The Ryder Cup is different. For three days out of every 730, some of the best golfers in the world are expected to turn into bug-eyed maniacs every time they make an 8ft putt. In the normal run of events, most of them would rather eat their divots than be caught dead chest-bumping a playing partner for holing a bunker shot. Golfers are not cool dudes. They can’t pull this stuff off without looking like prize dorks. They do it anyway because the Ryder Cup demands it.
Some of it is real and genuine. Some of it is excruciatingly forced. A lot of it is pure pantomime, which is how it should be. The Ryder Cup has that weird dichotomy of being incredibly meaningful to the combatants in the moment and yet completely ephemeral to the watching world. Your day will not be made or ruined by the result of a Ryder Cup. Whether Europe win or lose next Sunday, the aftertaste won’t last past teatime.
In Rome next week, there’ll be no Ian Poulter, no Sergio Garcia, no Lee Westwood on the European team
In that context, of course, the teams should panto it up. It’s a crucial part of any Ryder Cup. There should be shushing of fans, cupping of ears, all that nonsense. The fist-pumping should put John Mullane to shame. The roaring and harooing should be deafening. There should be at least five incidents across the weekend that has the Daily Telegraph tut-tutting and whining and generally despairing for mankind.
Here’s the problem. This Ryder Cup looks very thin on pantomime villains. One of the worst consequences of the LIV Golf is that it has hoovered up most of the players who were only delighted to make a show of themselves at a Ryder Cup. The Saudi money has taken all the tossers and left us with 24 terribly nice chaps.
In Rome next week, there’ll be no Ian Poulter, no Sergio Garcia, no Lee Westwood on the European team. It’s probably hard to imagine any of them would have made the team but you can be sure they’d have been in and around the place, making mischief. Henrik Stenson would have been captain — he’d have got them involved somehow.
As for the Yanks, there’s no Patrick Reed, no Bryson DeChambeau, no Phil Mickelson. Brooks Koepka is the only LIV player on the team and his whole schtick is to make it very clear to everyone watching that he couldn’t possibly care less about anything to do with golf, least of all this stupid Ryder Cup that you all seem to enjoy.
Instead, what have we got? A European team that is filled with some of the most pleasant human beings on the planet. Rory McIlroy and John Rahm might try and rile the thing up here and there but after that, you’re looking at the likes of Viktor Hovland, Shane Lowry, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, Matt Fitzpatrick. Happy-go-lucky to a man. Even Tyrrell Hatton mostly just gets annoyed at himself.
As for the two captains, there is more chance of Poulter and Reed plummeting in via a tandem skydive on to the first tee at 7am next Friday than Luke Donald or Zach Johnson saying or doing anything mildly controversial before it
Things don’t get a whole lot spicier in the USA team room. Scottie Scheffler would apologise to you if you stood on his toe. Max Homa and Rickie Fowler are famously two of the nicest people in the sport. Patrick Cantlay, Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele — you’re basically talking about lads you wouldn’t mind your daughter marrying, as long as you weren’t stuck beside them at the wedding.
And as for the two captains, there is more chance of Poulter and Reed plummeting in via a tandem skydive on to the first tee at 7am next Friday than Luke Donald or Zach Johnson saying or doing anything mildly controversial before it. They are exactly what non-golf people think about when they think about golf people. Polite, reserved, boring as double-maths.
This is not good. LIV can’t have declawed the Ryder Cup, can it? Nobody wants a week in Italy where everyone is nice to each other. Where all the players are deeply respectful and nobody says a word out of place and all the shots are applauded and none of the misses are cheered.
That may be golf but it’s not the Ryder Cup.