Ryder Requires Social Poise, Great Golf

The 2018 Ryder Cup Begins with a Gala at the Versailles Palace

The 2018 Ryder Cup will be played between September 28 and 30, and that’s just the day after tomorrow. The mecca of match play, Friday and Saturday will be taken up with four matches of fourball (better ball) and foursome (alternate shot). The great culmination, most peoples’ favorites, will all occur on Sunday, with twelve singles duels in the green and blue of France at Le Golf National. The course is situated in the Paris area, and is in a very French way, drop-dead gorgeous. Golfers allergic to water should start packing for home now, as the main course, Albatross, is very wet and threatening. Aigle (eagle) and Oiselet (birdie, little bird) make up the other two.

The more daunting, at least somewhat different, sort of Ryder Cup test will come sooner, as the American and European golfers attend the Gala Dinner with their assorted wives, fiancees, etc. A splashy set of photos came out today capturing the early festivities. When anyone who tours doesn’t yet have wealth, he or she certainly still meets a lot of it, but for an American, that’s different than doing it on the home turf of European royalty. The Gala this year will be held at the Palace of Versailles, the very heart of French royalty and upper aristocracy. Built in the 17th century by one of the early kings who erected a hunting lodge on the spot, all the subsequent Louis, from the XIV to the XVIII, took a swing at adding to the splendor. Now covering 800 hectares with the lodge, palace, additional palaces, gardens, etc., the golfers will be hosted where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were married.

Only a few years ago, most of the American players were college boys, and probably didn’t get around much in French aristocratic circles. They needn’t fear, though – no one else is very good at it, either, with a few exceptions. Walking in as couples, one could tell which players have worn tuxedos more often. The women who accompanied them, however, seemed to possess the greater talent for the occasion, mixing the gaiety with a fair amount of poise. One had to commiserate with Dustin Johnson,  a world number one, who was relegated to photo duty by his date, Pauline Gretzky. The eldest child of hockey great Wayne Gretzky, she was worth photographing at length in the generally spectacular display of fashions, and as an afterthought, perhaps sympathy for Johnson might be restrained.

After such a social hurdle for some, the real Ryder Cup begins, and the men relapse into something more akin to recent memory, golf matches that resemble frat house battles. The Americans boast a strong field including a newly-rejuvenated Tiger Woods, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Bryson de Chambeau (what a perfect name for a French Ryder Cup), Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Webb Simpson, Tony Finau, and good old Phil Mickelson. Although I don’t know much about one or two of the Europeans, there are names that elicit an opponent’s “ulp.” considering their recent success. They include Justin Rose, Francesco Molinari, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood, Alexander Noren, Paul Casey, Henrik Stenson, Tyrell Hatton, Sergio Garcia, and Ian Poulter.

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The Americans have not won a Ryder Cup in Europe since 1993, but are defending champions from the last go-round at Hazeltine. Europeans are in training to render themselves immune to what they view as typically American bad behavior, and the Americans are well-armed against what they see as European arrogance. With political tensions across the pond at a greater level of stress than usual, I hope that everyone will make an extra effort to remember how fortunate they all are to play the game they play, and for the venues on which they play it. More relevant to the first test at hand, however, I also hope that they can remember which fork goes with what dish, and the difference between an Italian and French Gavotte.

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