Ryder Cup Good for USA, but in Unexpected Ways, Good For Everyone
I remember being present at a general faculty meeting when a college president jokingly remarked that he placed no importance at all on rankings, or “winning” – unless, of course, the college had just jumped up twenty spots, or won something outright – which it had just done. That popped into my head as Jack Nicklaus and other former greats not to get so serious about our Ryder Cup fortunes that it gets into our heads. In the big picture, Nicklaus was certainly correct – the world didn’t end in years of defeat, but try to tell a group of super-competitive golfers from any continent that it’s not meant to be taken all that seriously. Of course, there was never a more competitive guy than Nicklaus, and on the course, he would have scoffed at the idea as well. It didn’t work so well on me, either. I wasn’t going to fall into an international funk if the Europeans won this year’s Ryder Cup. Some of my favorite players represent Europe, but I admit to taking a little more satisfaction in the American victory than I thought I would.
In 2014, the US was so incensed at yet another breakdown in the bi-annual Ryder Cup competition that it assembled a task force to help prepare for the next one. At the time it seemed the height of taking it all too seriously. It sounded more like a military invasion more than a rivalry of golf matches. On top of it all, I didn’t understand how it was all going to affect play on the course. After all, you are who you are, and you play like you play. If that’s not good enough, you lose – sorry. I clearly missed some of the available subtleties. Despite the horrible bashing that was suffered by the task force, which later became the Ryder Cup Committee, the idea seems to have produced some results. The players think so, too.
Criticisms of former Ryder years included a picture of autocratic management, and this year’s model spread some of the authority and feedback around, giving players a sense of ownership in the project, and creating a little more of a family atmosphere. Some tangible changes were enacted as well, such as waiting to choose the Captain’s picks until the season is really over, meaning The Tour of Champions. Phil Mickelson was central to absolutely everything, and his experience showed. The US beat Europe 17 to 11, a pretty good margin for this match play format. The Americans jumped on it early, as Mickelson and Rickie Fowler drew first blood. Mickelson went on to go 2 – 1 – 1.Brandt Snedecker started in and stayed in form, going 3 – 0 for the week. Equally important, Patrick Read, strong in the “nerves of steel” department, took out Rory McIlroy, an inspiring thought for any opponent of the sensational Irishman. Ryan Moore, Snedecker, Dustin Johnson, and Brooks Koepka defeated Willett, Wood, Sullivan and Westwood to keep the pressure on, with Zack Johnson winning over Matt Fitzpatrick.
The particularly cool thing about this Ryder Cup over all the others, however, was not the scoring. It was the appearance of team members and their trophy at the memorial service of Arnold Palmer. Even in death, Palmer reminded us of an important lesson, by becoming such a universal symbol of the game and human grace that he left nationalism and division behind. He belonged to everyone. It reminded European and American alike, if each player was astute enough to see it this way, that we are lucky to have and to play this game – together.
The way I see it, there’s only one more major issue to address. A few American spectators have the game of golf mixed up with hockey or boxing. Rory was right to have one of them removed, and if the powers-that-be really want to keep manners in the game, they’ll come down on it like an anvil. In doing so, they might want to refer back to Arnold Palmer as a model. He still has a lot to say, and we should listen.