GolfWeek Magazine featured an article this week entitled “Oh, Ryder Cup, you fill us up.”
The crux of the article was about how the Ryder Cup made golf look cool. From the loud cheers on the first tee while Bubba Watson hit his opening shot with a hot pink driver to the names that dropped in on Medinah to witness the competition last week, golf shed its crusty image and opened the door to a new fan base.
Consider that Justin Timberlake, George Lopez, Bill Murray and Toby Keith joined great athletes like Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan at Medinah. Only at the Ryder Cup would appearances by two former U.S. Presidents get lost in the surroundings.
George H.W. #41 and George W. #43 dined with us in the team room on Saturday night. They both offered words of wisdom to the U.S. team. Republicans everywhere are hoping that the inspirational messages, which failed to vault the Americans to victory, aren’t a sign of things to come!
Former President Bill Clinton phoned Davis Love III from Italy. Jack Nicklaus showed up Sunday morning to do a preview for Sky Sports, the European version of ESPN. Former Ryder Cup Captains such as Corey Pavin, Dave Stockton, Hal Sutton, Lee Trevino, Tom Lehman, Lanny Wadkins, Ben Crenshaw, Billy Casper and Dow Finsterwald hung around Medinah all week.
Trevino was on the course for all five sessions. On Friday morning he walked up to the 8th tee and crouched beside me while Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods were playing their match. He leaned over to me and whispered some words of advice.
“Why don’t you do something constructive and go over there and break Tiger’s driver,” grinned Trevino as Woods was missing fairways left and right. Trevino played on six Ryder Cup teams from (1969-81).
“When I played at Birkdale in ’69, I had to find my own way to the golf course, and I could barely get food,” said Trevino.
Last week Medinah drew more than 240,000 spectators. The Ryder Cup was watched in 600 million households and was expected to generate $130 million for Chicagoland. Players were not only well fed, but some like Rory McIlroy, even got police escorts to the golf course.
You could say that the Ryder Cup has been transformed since 1983. In advance of that Ryder Cup, rights-holder Roone Arledge, president of ABC sports, offered to pay the PGA of America $1 million not to broad cast the Ryder Cup.
The last two Ryder Cups have been decided by identical scores of 14 ½ to 13 ½ in favor of the Europeans. The Euros have now won 10 of the past 14 Cups including seven of the last nine. But, the U.S. could have been sitting on three straight Ryder Cup possessions if not for a quirky set of circumstances in 2010 at Celtic Manor in Wales.
During session two, Rickie Fowler and Jim Furyk were paired together in the foursome competition (alternate shot) against Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer. Furyk hooked his tee shot outside the ropes into the mud and slop on the fourth hole. The U.S. team received relief from casual water. Fowler took the drop and hit the second shot just short of the green and it appeared the U.S. would halve the hole with pars.
As Furyk and Fowler walked to the green they stopped, had a brief conversation, and summoned the rules official. It seems that Fowler was carrying the ball that he had been teeing off with in his pocket. He inexplicably took the drop from casual water with the wrong ball and proceeded to hit the shot which resulted in loss of hole in match play.
To make a long story short, the American team wound up winning the 18th hole to gain a tie with Westwood and Kaymer resulting in ½ point. Had Fowler not incurred the penalty, the Americans could have won the match 1 up and earned a full point. This would have produced a 14-14 tie and the U.S. would have retained the Cup at Celtic Manor because it was the defending champion.
Fast forward to Sunday afternoon at Medinah, Tiger Woods stands on the 18th tee with a 1 up lead on Francesco Molinari. If Tiger halves the final hole, the U.S. earns another 14-14 tie and retains the Ryder Cup for the third time in a row. I have to believe that had these been the circumstances, Woods would have been in a different place mentally than he was when it was clear the Euros had won the Cup with Kaymer’s putt against Stricker in the match ahead.
The only solace from the Fowler incident was that during last week’s rules meeting with the U.S. team, Rules Chairman David Price emphasized the point of finishing each hole in the foursome matches with the same ball that started play on the hole.
I told this story during an interview I did on Tuesday night on the PGA Tour Radio Network. I received an email from a high profile former Ryder Cup Captain saying it was “a very poignant story……. But, it’s time to move ahead to 2014.”
That’s good advice, but it’s easier said than done. The Ryder Cup is like Christmas, except we only get it every two years.
Oh, Ryder Cup, you did fill me up.