The Ryder Cup: Why it Matters

by Hayden Alfano

I sympathize with those who find watching golf boring, especially non-golfers. I’m a weekend golfer myself and greatly enjoy playing the game, and I watch maybe three golf tournaments per year: The British Open, because of the unique style of golf the layouts across the pond require; the U.S. Open, because of how difficult the courses are set up; and The Masters, because, well, it’s The Masters.

But every two years, I watch The Ryder Cup. And, if you like sports, you should, too.

Look, you like the Olympics, right? Do you often head down to your local YMCA to see people swim a few laps? Absent a gruesome accident, is there anything inherently interesting about the javelin throw? Is sitting on your porch on a weekend morning watching your neighbors jog by a favorite pastime?

Probably not. For what it’s worth, I’m just like you. I’ve been dragged to a live gymnastics event in the past, and I swore I’d never go to another. But I watched intently as Nastia Liukin brought the gold home from Beijing last month.

The point is, there’s something about the Olympics that holds our attention that goes well beyond the events themselves. There’s a reason that most Olympic sports aren’t televised when it’s not the Olympics.

The same principles apply to the Ryder Cup. The competition pits 12 of the best golfers from the United States against a dozen of Europe’s best. The intensity with which both sides approach the competition is off the charts. For most, it’s the defining experience of their careers.

The crowd at the Ryder Cup, particularly those held on American soil — the sides alternate hosting — is not your typical golf audience. The term “golf clap” doesn’t apply. This year, at Valhalla Golf Club, in Louisville, Ky., the fans were something out of Happy Gilmore. Not only did they cheer when the Americans made a good shot, they cheered when the Europeans made a bad one. Such behavior would get you angry looks at most PGA (Professional Golfers' Association) events, if not an ejection from the grounds. It’s standard at the Ryder Cup. Depending on who you ask, it’s even encouraged.

Ryder Cup rookie Boo Weekley, one of the more… unpolished… guys on tour, spent much of the weekend channeling his inner Hulk Hogan, exhorting the crowd to make noise, stopping just short of strutting around the green with his hand up to his ear. The American fans responded, chanting “Booooooooooooo!” every time he made a good shot. One guy even showed up clad in a white sheet, dressed as a ghost the way a child might on Halloween.

This time around, the American pulled off a monumental upset. The United States team was a big underdog heading into the weekend, as it was without the best to ever play the game, Tiger Woods. Woods went down for the season with a knee injury after a gritty win at the U.S. Open in June. But it was an Irishman who had thus far seized the opportunity created by Woods’ absence; Padraig Harrington won the final two major tournaments of the year (the British Open and the PGA Championship). With Harrington looming atop a very talented European squad and no Woods for the Americans, it appeared that the U.S. was in serious of danger of losing its fourth straight Ryder Cup.

For whatever reason — maybe it was the crowd — the United States won this one fairly easily. I won’t trouble you with the details — remember, it’s not about the golf, and if you know what the phrase “5 and 4” means, then you were probably watching — but the Americans seized control on Friday, and never really let go. There were some tense moments along the way, but the U.S. had the thing sewn up by the middle of the afternoon on Sunday, with a handful of matches still on the course.

The next Ryder Cup is scheduled for October 1-3, 2010, in Wales. It’s two years away, but it’s already on the players’ calendars. It’s on mine, too. And it should be on yours.

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