Words by Ava Steed
Golf, that royal and ancient pastime whose universal foundations are struck and set in integrity and courtesy and camaraderie and all that is good and wholesome about human nature and fair play, was pushed to its accommodating limits again last month when that whirlwind of fraught competitive professional angst, the Ryder Cup, came up on the calendar again.
At its inception in 1927, the Cup, donated by Hertfordshire seed merchant Sam Ryder, to be played for biennially, pitting American golf professionals and their peers from Great Britain and Ireland, would have been based firmly in those ethics; to play head to head competitively yes, but always within the spirit of the noble game.
In the ensuing years, the US tour and its standard prospered competitively at a greater velocity than the British one. By the 1970s the lustre and the sense of occasion had been all but lost as we, on this side of the pond, got relentlessly battered every 2 years. How battered? Well, we won it back briefly in 1957, and thereafter our only other high point was to earn a creditable half (that’s a tie) in 1969. The Ryder Cup had become a formality. A shoo-in. The Americans had become bored by it. The Brits, exasperated by it. Something had to give.
Since 1983, the Ryder Cup has been contested between the USA and Europe. And that’s when the sparks have flown.
That expansion proved, then, to be the kiss of life to the ailing old vehicle. Suddenly our side was bolstered by Langer from Germany and Canizares and Ballesteros from Spain, and this coincided with an unprecedented boom in our own home-grown talent with the emergence of Woosnam from Wales, Lyle from Scotland and Faldo from England. The 1983 contest was played in Florida, and it was an absolute clash of the titans. The USA won by a single point, but the message was now clear; this was, as they say, a whole new ball game. Team Europe won in 1985 at The Belfry in England. And since then, the Cup has come to us, then left us, regularly and frequently.
But what has become of the spirit of international golf, of Sam Ryder’s vision? The Cup has become a testosterone-fest, slugged out by 24 golfing millionaires on enormous stadium golf courses, attended by baying hordes, many with scant understanding of crowd etiquette on a golf course. They roar when an opponent’s ball hits sand or water. They surround the greens, and laugh and cheer when a short-ish putt is missed.
And so to last month’s encounter at Whistling Straits on the banks of Lake Michigan, dubbed by many Americans The New War on the Shore, in which USA took the trophy back with a thumping 19-9 score line. It all ran in parallel with the form book, they won the first 3 sessions 3-1 so after just a day and a half 9-3 looked, and was, an unassailable lead.
American Pro golf is currently at a high, Europe’s is at a low. 2023 in Italy is sold out. However far Sam’s dream has been desecrated and bastardised, it’s still a fascinating prospect.