Go Easy on the Ryder Cup

Ryder Cup Wars

Nicklaus Goes Against Usual Thinking

It’s Ryder Cup time again, and the testosterone is flowing in the streets on both sides of the continent. It is a natural component for all athletic competitors to include winning as a prerequisite for doing. We play everything to win, and in most cases, would meet the question of “Why?” with an incredulous stare. And then along comes one of the biggest winners of all times, in some circles the biggest, who suggests that it’s just not that big of a deal. Jack Nicklaus has been saying this for a while now, that turning the Ryder Cup into an inter-continental war is a step too far in competition. In a sense, the teams from Europe and the U.S. take on a greater enmity toward their fellow continent than they do their fellow man in the heat of battle Just try telling Sergio Garcia not to worry about winning, then get out of the way.

ryderNicklaus’s sentiment may not make immediate sense to the player or fan who places winning above all things, except in most cases, the rules. In another view, however, he is looking at the bigger and longer picture. He’s looking at the good of the game, and of the long-term benefits it can yield for good will across borders and cultures, rather than expressing the hostility created by those same borders and ways of life. After all, the game of golf was never intended to serve as a weapon. And so, in the grand scheme of things, if we can get over that initial “win or die” attitude, Nicklaus is right – and Samuel Ryder was right as well.

Ryder was British, but he never intended for his event to extend the long defunct American Revolution. As for the rest of Europe, alliances have changed so often in war and peacetime that there’s really no historical basis for blood-thirsty competition between anyone, on either side of the ocean. Ryder wasn’t even a professional golfer. He was a seed merchant, doing very well in his home of St. Albans.
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The event named for him had roots in America as well, but no one is precisely sure who should get the credit. Some say it should go to Sylvanus P. Jermain, President of the Inverness Golf Club in Toledo, Ohio. He allegedly presented the concept of inter-continental golf in 1921. Others say that James Harnett, a representative of Golf Illustrated, beat him to the punch in 1920. Regardless, it was Ryder who coalesced the first British team, with Europe soon to follow. He provided a trophy, but that’s not the point A trophy is like a flag. Before anyone picked up a club, he organized a get-together with teams from both continents, using the words, “Why don’t we get to know each other?” One can only wonder how many wars might not have gotten started if someone in authority had said such a simple thing. Ryder followed up by throwing a party for both teams, complete with champagne and chicken sandwiches. Doesn’t sound much like a warrior to me – more like a great sportsman  Personally, I think he agreed with Nicklaus – good competition, good will, win or lose.

Ryder was able to watch two installments of his new Ryder Cup match-play tournament on his own soil, and after he passed on, his youngest daughter, Joan, took up the cause and kept the same spirit going through 1985, the year of her death.

Competition for the joy of competition has moved the wheels of civilization in its best moments. Saddle it with even surface hatred or unwarranted arrogance, and Nicklaus’ point becomes clear. It’s a joy to play this game, and a joy to meet people who play it well in all parts of the world. There’s no need for “them versus us,” except on the leaderboard.  I expect the Europeans and Americans to put everything they’ve got into winning the next round – but I hope that nobody forgets how lucky we are to be here, and doing this.


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