2018 Ryder Cup September 25-30 Le Golf National Paris, France
By Phil Rice
It is extraordinary to witness the transformation of fellow professional golfers who compete against each other week in week out in the best example of good sporting behaviour you could imagine, suddenly becoming sworn enemies and hostile opponents for three emotionally charged days.
The Ryder Cup evokes the most fanatical reaction from spectators of almost any major sporting event. Screams of “USA, USA” and European supporters roaring on their players will be the order of the three days over this weekend. The atmosphere bristles with impassioned support for both sides.
The Ryder Cup is a biennial confrontation between two continents that brings out the most xenophobic and one-eyed patriotic behaviour you could ever imagine.
The great Jack Nicklaus speaking of the Ryder Cup, once commented, “The thing I fear is that it will lose the reason it came into existence, to promote goodwill.” I am afraid Jack we have come well past the good natured and friendly competition that generates goodwill.
The 1991 encounter in Kiawah Island which became known as “The war on the shore,” was a watershed for the event in the worst possible sense.
Never before had both teams heckles been raised to that extent before, and while it hasn’t been quite as blatantly hostile since that occasion, there has been an underlying animosity between the two teams ever since.
Since that low point of blatant aggression, successive captains have approached the match saying that it is all good-natured fun, but anyone who witnesses the fever pitch that emotions reach on the first tee on Friday morning, is in no doubt as to the partisan nature of the competing teams and supporters.
Players experience the crowds cheering when they miss putts, something they are not used to, and we have witnessed the less robust players being adversely affected by the crowd’s hostile involvement.
It was no surprise in those circumstances that both of this years captains, Jim Furyk of the USA and Thomas Bjorn of Europe, went for experience when they selected their four wild card picks.
Rookies have repeatedly said they have never experienced the level of nervousness as they have when they teed off on the first tee in Ryder Cup matches. Of course, it is great theatre and the media love hyping the event to the hilt.
This year’s venue just outside Paris, was developed with the Ryder Cup in mind. The closing four holes in particular were designed to provide the most dramatic and challenging setting imaginable for competitively charged golfers and vociferous supporters, to express themselves.
Water abounds throughout Le Golf National but particularly over the closing holes. The French Open has been played on the course for the past five years and many golfers have come to grief as they try to negotiate the treacherous final holes.
There are bound to be dramatic finishes to some of the matches this week and hence the need for experienced heads as the drama reaches fever pitch.
Jim Furyk showed his desire for experience by selecting Tiger Woods, the newly crowned Tour Champion, and Phil Mickleson both veterans of many nerve-jangling Ryder Cup matches.
While Bjorn went for Mr Ryder Cup himself, Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia, both of whose form would not have suggested they should be among the best 12 players in Europe. However nerves play a big part in Ryder Cups and some players rise to the challenge while others turn to jelly.
For Poulter in particular the Ryder Cup provides transformative powers. He beats his chest in pride as another more highly ranked American bites the dust under his challenge. Almost single handedly he resurrected Europe’s dying hopes in Medinah in 2012.
Ireland’s only playing representative this week is Rory McIlroy whose form has taken a considerable upturn in recent weeks and while his Ryder Cup record is fairly moderate he will be expected to be a key player for Europe.
Padraig Harrington, who has considerable experience of success in the event, will be one of Thomas Bjorn’s Vice Captains, encouraging and cajoling the players throughout the weekend.
The American’s are the current holders of the trophy and as such will only have to halve the match in order to retain the cup.
— Ryder Cup (@rydercup) September 24, 2018
Almost inevitably things will get very tight on Sunday afternoon when the 12 singles matches take place.
With the teams so closely matched, the half point advantage the US have as holders may be significant.
As a team the US are more highly ranked in the world rankings than their European opponent’s, but this has almost always been the case. In fact, one of the few years that wasn’t the case, in 2008 in Valhalla, Europe were heavily defeated.
It is therefore important that Europe build as big a lead as possible in the fourballs and especially the foursomes on Friday and Saturday.
The alternate shot format of the foursomes has traditionally proved to be Europe’s strongest suit.
This week’s match is expected to be one of the closest in recent years, even the bookies have found it difficult to separate the teams.
The US are slight favourites but that could all change if Europe make a strong start on Friday morning.
This is a weekend for the couch potato, even non-golf enthusiasts will find the drama compelling viewing.