Ryder Cup reflects no aspect of actually-lived reality
Opinion: American fans, like the players, seem to be more fervent than their European counterparts
‘No golf writer or proper sports journalist has speculated that Paul McGinley’s sensational hint that he might “split” Northerners Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell for the doubles matches in the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles this weekend was down to Rory being from a Catholic background and Graeme from Protestant stock.’ Photograph: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
We can only assume that it was on account of heightened political sensitivities in the aftermath of the Scottish referendum that no golf writer or proper sports journalist has speculated that Paul McGinley’s sensational hint that he might “split” Northerners Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell for the doubles matches in the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles this weekend was down to Rory being from a Catholic background and Graeme from Protestant stock.
The fact McGinley is from the Republic could have added a certain piquancy. “Controversy rages as Dubliner Paul divides North.”. That sort of thing.
Instead, the opening phase of the breathless build-up was dominated by Rickie Fowler’s hair. Possibly not the brightest pin on the putting green, Fowler turned up at Gleneagles sporting a close-cropped crew-cut with the letters “USA” razored in an arc from the nape of his neck northwards to the vicinity of his right ear. “An exhibition of thuggish jingoism,” snorted the Daily Telegraph, as angry as on any other day.
Virtually unanimously, newspaper reports likened Fowler making the cut to the mayhem at the Country Club, Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1999, when the entire US team rushed onto the green at the 17th “whooping and hollering” (Daily Mail) after Justin Leonard had holed a 12m (40ft) birdie putt to win the match. Or so the Americans assumed.
Actually, Spanish ace José María Olazábal still had a putt to come that would have squared the tie and taken the drama down to the last hole. Possibly distracted by the scenes of wild excitement, Olazábal missed. “A day that will live in infamy,” pronounced BBC veteran Alistair Cooke crossly in his next Letter from America, not referring to American golfers having proven themselves dunces at counting.
US captain Ben Crenshaw had a different explanation of his side’s last-gasp comeback from a 10-6 deficit. He had invited Texas governor George W Bush into the locker room to lift the players with a pep talk. Bush chose to read the speech delivered by Donemana man Davy Crockett to the vastly outnumbered and beleaguered Texans prior to the Battle of the Alamo in 1836.
(In fact, the speech was probably delivered, if it was delivered at all, by William B Travis, but no matter.) Bush’s words sent such a thrill through the American ranks that David Duval dashed out the door on to the course shouting, “Let’s go kill them!”
In 1989, Payne Stewart tried to psyche out the Europeans by playing Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA at full volume in the clubhouse. (“I had a brother at Khe Sahn/Fighting off the Viet Cong/They’re still there, he’s all gone.” Inspirational stuff.)
American fans, like the players, do seem to be more fervent than the Europeans in their approach to the Ryder Cup, chanting “USA!, USA! USA,” to celebrate the team doing well or to give them a boost when they falter. More or less non-stop, then. Many Europeans find this raucous partisanship uncongenial and contrast it with their own more restrained behaviour. But the real reason for the difference is that chanting the obvious response, “Europe! Europe! Europe!”, would be forced, awkward, embarrassing.
Therein lies the problem: the Ryder Cup is a manufactured event, reflecting no aspect of actually-lived reality. The patriotism that blights America and can bring it together in toxic euphoria finds an equivalent in Europe, not in any sense of emotional commitment to the entity, but only in the contradictory form of competing nationalisms.
We are invited to believe that Irish people will be more engaged in the tussle this time around on account of Dubliner McGinley being captain of the European squad. But why should this be so? What does the captain of a Ryder Cup team actually do? He has three picks to add to the nine players qualified on the basis of performances over the season. (Picks. If we were told that the best footballer playing in Britain, Mario Balotelli, will be “among Brendan Rodgers’s picks” for the victory over Everton this coming Sunday, we’d squirm at the gauche formulation. That’s another thing about the Ryder Cup crowd. No ear for language.)
McGinley will have five vice-captains around him – Olazábal, Pádraig Harrington, Miguel Ángel Jiménez, Sam Torrance and Des Smyth. What’s that all about? What will they be able to find to do? Twelve players, six mentors. Even the Dublin county board would baulk at the disproportion.
Still, it has to be conceded that, by and large, the journalists covering the event have so far managed to come up with a story a day – an achievement not to be sneered at. It must be that there’s an appetite among readers for the morsels served up. Takes all sorts.
Some will be spluttering even now that two-versus-two golf matches are not called “doubles”. I know this, but I just don’t care.