Ryder Cup week has finally arrived. The biennial competition to be held this year in the sports crazy town of Chicago promises to deliver unprecedented excitement and if the current form of the top players is a taste of what s to come, then we re certainly in for an action packed few days. I ve always found the Ryder Cup compelling viewing and the team concept of the event is definitely somewhat enigmatic due to the fact professional golf is played individually and for money. The Ryder Cup encompasses neither of those. This week is all about pride, passion and unity. This event has evolved dramatically over the years and those who have been fortunate enough to have been witness to it would be aware of the 1991 classic War on the Shore at famed Kiawah Island when Team USA regained the cup in emphatic fashion as Bernhard Langer missed a six foot putt on the final green which would have kept the cup in Europe s grasp for another two years. Tensions boiled over that year, none more so than in a Day One Fourball match between Europe s team of Seve Ballesteros and Jose-Maria Olazabal versus the USA s Paul Azinger and Chip Beck. Talk about the odd man out Chip Beck has to be one of the nicest and most gracious characters to have ever graced the fairways of the PGA Tour and here he was caught in the middle of verbal tirades flying back and forth between the other three gentlemen. Team Europe had accused the American team of changing the compression of their golf ball throughout the match which is against the rules and an argument developed to the point that the players had to be separated. Eventually, it was determined that Team USA had no intention of breaking the rules and as the episode had taken place a few holes prior, the score would stand and no penalties were enforced. In 1999 there was the famous Battle of Brookline in Boston when Team USA overcame a seemingly insurmountable deficit heading into the final day s play to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The infamous images of Team USA, along with just about every spectator surrounding the 17th green swooping on Justin Leonard after he holed an uphill, forty foot bomb to clinch the cup will forever go down as one of the more unsportsmanlike celebrations in the history of our game. There s no question that following the incident, many players would regret their premature actions but it was too late, and the Ryder Cup would now be seen as more than an exhibition as some had still perceived it. It remains fascinating to see the vast array of emotions displayed by certain characters who could often be portrayed as quite the opposite. I reflect on David Duval s circling of the green double fist-pump salute following his win in the Sunday singles at Brookline. Duval has always been known as the stoic, ice cool competitor who remained unfazed even under the highest amount of pressure. When Hunter Mahan duffed his chip which inevitably lost Team USA the Ryder Cup in Wales back in 2010, he was reduced to tears at the press conference succumbing to the extreme pressure that was placed on his do-or-die singles encounter with Graeme McDowell. Mahan expressed his disappointment and stated that he had let his nation down. It’s remarkable how a gritty, determined and consistent champion like Colin Montgomerie, who never could grab that elusive major, managed to play his best golf at Ryder Cup time regardless of form leading into the event. Such was his will to be the inspirational performer, Monty would amazingly never lose a singles match in eight Ryder Cups. On the other hand, you have Tiger Woods who has broken nearly every record in golf yet boasts a less than pleasing 13-14-2 record over his Ryder Cup career which commenced at Valderrama, Spain in 1997. For the public, it can be hard to see how players who are so accustomed to the selfish pursuit of our sport can be so excited to compete for only pride. Unless you have been a part of battle then it really is difficult to place yourself in their shoes and attempt to harbor the nerves these champions do which they all say is completely different to anything they experience throughout the season, including major championships. The closest I can relate to these feelings would be to recall my days representing my club in Pennants or NSW at National level. Personally, I wish we had more of these competitions throughout the season as some of my fondest memories were shared during these events. There was mischief, pranks, frustration, motivation but above all, the team atmosphere created bonds and friendships that have remained to this day which is something that is all too infrequent on the long and lonely road that is professional golf.
Author: Ewan Porter / Golf Australia