For once, the spoilt brats actually made us care about golf
Ryder Cup strikes a chord with the world
Why were millions of people, from the tip of Africa to the eastern shores of Japan and beyond, so caught up in watching two teams that have no nationalistic connection to a large percentage of the planet compete for the Ryder Cup?
The competition features 24 great golfers, but that’s not enough to understand why the contest between the US and Europe is just so bloody compelling.
For three days every two years British golfer Ian Poulter becomes everyone’s favourite golfer (outside of the US that is) because he pours so much visible passion into winning for Team Europe.
After clinching his singles point last Sunday at La Golf National in Paris, to edge Europe closer to the 14.5 points they needed for victory, Poulter pulled on a red postbox costume. Yes, he took a piece of fancy dress from some fans and donned it, because he is the postman who delivers on a Sunday. Team Europe is able to connect with average fans and Poulter is their Everyman.
The official Team Europe Ryder Cup Twitter feed posted a risqué and tongue-in-cheek video of Englishman Tommy Fleetwood and Italian Open winner Francesco Molinari supposedly waking up together with the cup between them on Monday morning.
The pair won four out of four points together in the first two days and were dubbed Moliwood by the media. Molinari added a singles point to become the first man since American Larry Nelson 1979 to win a maximum five points.
In the video Molinari gently taps Fleetwood, who then says: “How was that for you?” The deadpan Italian responds: “Four out of four!” to which a sleepy Fleetwood murmurs: “I’d give you five out of five, Frankie.”
It is clever use of media and showed that Europe possessed a sense of humour as well as a great team spirit.
And that is part of what makes watching this event so compelling. The US usually arrives with the better team on paper, and Europe somehow finds a way to win.
This year’s US team had nine major winners on its roster and winners of six of the last seven majors – Molinari being the only exception. They had six of the world’s top 10 players including world No 1 Dustin Johnson, a resurgent Tiger Woods, Ryder Cup hero from 2014 and 2016, as well as 2018 Masters winner Patrick Reed.
There was Brooks Koepka, winner of two majors in 2018 and the 2017 US Open, as well as Jordan Spieth and world number 4 Justin Thomas. Veteran Phil Mickelson was there and the quirky and in-form Bryson de Chambeau, Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson. Even former US Open winner Webb Simpson was in the mix as well as rising star Tony Finau. They simply couldn’t lose, yet they not only lost, but were thrashed 17.5-10.5.
That US team on paper was the golfing equivalent of the All Blacks while Europe were the current Springboks. They had no right to win, but they did. Which made it a compelling spectacle. The fans, the course, and the TV production added to the drama, as did the David vs Goliath nature of the contest.
Golf’s contest between the US and Europe is a fairly recent development as it was always played between the US and Great Britain and Ireland until 1979.
The introduction of players from continental Europe has turned what was a competitive biennial competition, few outside of the golfing world noticed, into a global event.
The inclusion of European players made the event more competitive after years of US dominance and that in turn raised its profile and popularity.
Prior to introducing players from Europe, the US won 19 of 24 matches, including 10 in a row from 1957-1977.
When Spaniard Seve Ballesteros, the most popular man in world golf in the early 1980s, joined the competition for the first time in 1979, the Ryder Cup was set to boom.
The US won three more matches but lost the cup in 1985 for the first time to Team Europe. It was front and back page news across Europe and most parts of the world. The little team competition had become big business.
Since that famous 1985 win at the Belfry, Europe have always embodied a team, while the US have generally been a collection of talented individuals.
As money and coverage has saturated the event, so too has Europe’s sense of team spirit, which has somehow struck a chord with spectators globally.
Elite golfers are some of the most pampered and fawned over people in global sport, but for a few days every two years they have to play for something bigger than their ego and bank balance.
And it strikes just the right note to make it the must-watch sporting event of the year.