The biggest pop festival in golf is about to kick off in the best venue it ever has been at and ever will be at in Europe, the French National outside Paris. It will be a circus, a show, a cauldron of patriotism and fervour that has never been emulated at any other event in the golfing world. But what’s going on under the frenetic surface of “the show”?
It is probably a more contained version of what is happening outside the ropes.
It is important to remember that the Ryder Cup is the most important event on the European Tour – without it, and all the revenue it brings with it, the European Tour would not be as successful as it is. Therefore, there is always going to be a sense of celebration at the end of September every two years, and naturally a huge European Tour machine tags along.
Earlier this year the Eurasia Cup was staged in Malaysia, a mini-Ryder Cup of Europe against Asia. It was a pilot run for the European captain to test his backroom team for next week’s big show.
The team room is obviously the nucleus. There are motivational photos of past glories adorning the walls, success meets your every gaze. There are game screens, pool and table tennis tables.
The dining tables will be circular and inclusive. The food is not simply for consumption – it is there to fuel success. A nutritionist explains the benefits of each dish on offer from simple salads to the fancy main dishes, with both ingredients and nutritional values indicated beside each dish. The waiters serving you the food are not simply waiters – they are part of a winning team.
I am sure this would be a fairly basic set up for any team, but for those of us used to the individual nature of one of the most selfish games you can play the sense of belonging to something bigger than the individual is stark.
The team locker-room fridge was not stocked with the usual sponsor’s drinks but more specifically bespoke smoothies, with recovery shakes on hand immediately after finishing your round.
If you were to wonder at the little things that combine and have made such dramatic advances in performance compare the modern post-game refuelling with that of a Mars bar and a pack of crisps that would have been waiting for you in days of old.
There will be a team of statisticians with the facts of how to win a Ryder Cup match to synergise the fist-pumping emotional way of getting it done. In fact, the Fifteenth Club statistical gurus that will be at captain Bjorn’s disposal next weekend were able to tell us who should tee off on what hole in our foursomes match at the Eurasia Cup earlier in the year. It will be the same in Paris.
Apart from players’ personal physiotherapists, there will be those who work for the European Tour. The vice-captains even have their own appointed chauffeurs to drive their buggies so as not to distract them from their observation duties during the rounds.
Of course, to document all this an army of social media buffs will be creating the carefully-controlled content that we all get to see and read about Team Europe.
A feeling of strong and positive unity will be ever-present in the team room and for the many special meetings that captain Thomas will call. I would advise all attendees to be early as he has a very punctual north European time ethic.
For these he will draw on the seasoned campaigners, in fact his four picks, Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson and to a lesser degree Paul Casey to rally the team. Henrik delivered a strong message to team Europe on the Saturday night of the Eurasia Cup. It was much needed as the undeniably weaker Asian team had a significant lead before the final day's singles matches. It seemed to work, Europe won.
Which leads to the biennial fascination with the United States of America and the seemingly more United States of Europe for the week that’s in it.
With the bulk of the European team permanent PGA Tour players you could contend that their association with the European Tour is tenuous. It is the PGA Tour that has defined them as golfers, not Europe. At the top of both sides it is hard to draw a talent or success fault. When you slide lower the cracks may widen on the European side. Thus the fascination; the might of the US versus the nous of Europe.
But the most important distinction with the 18 holes of match play a la Ryder Cup format is just that. The teams are selected on their 72-hole stroke play performance. If this was the simple gauge to indicate victors then America would be undeniable favourites. But as we know from history there is something deeper than talent and form when it comes to playing for your side.
Having four picks has put more emphasis on the captain’s selection and leadership ability. Captain Bjorn, by his picks, has indicated that he truly values old school tradition.
All of these golfers are faced with doubt every time they align their club behind the ball with a card in their pocket. They get used to dealing with it. They become accustomed to the disappointment of not realising their potential, all as individuals. Throw 11 team-mates into the equation and the pressure mounts exponentially and in an unquantifiable manner. The team dynamic is what changes the emotion both high and low.
Bjorn will adopt a cajoling and comforting management style, and he will get the most out of his slightly inferior team. The greatest golfing show on earth will undoubtedly entertain because 18 holes of match play gives the underdog a greater chance of success than 72 holes of stroke play.