Updated: Sep 18, 2018
GolfVistaSA’s itinerant golf editor, John Cockayne has wimped out and gone up north to escape the South African winter (such as it is!) to vacation in la belle France! This ties up with the Ryder Cup and his story is as follows...
Some years ago I was asked why I had chosen golf as a career. I replied ‘because of my love of team sports’.
The irony in this is that I, like so many others who play what is essentially a very solo game, am enthralled with the Ryder Cup – a team contest in all the very best traditions.
So - here I am in France as Ryder Cup time comes around again, although the ‘again’ might be misplaced in this instance as the 2018 version of the event will be different for a number of reasons.
It will be a first for France as the host nation and hopefully the Ryder Cup being in Paris will be something of a catalyst for further development of the sport. This is a country where, perhaps not unsurprisingly, the team games of rugby and football tend to dominate the national conscious.
Team USA goes into the event in Paris with American golfers having won 8 of the last 12 Majors. Within this impressive statistic Brooks Koepka is on a particularly hot streak having won 3 of the last 8, including back to back US Open triumphs.
The return of Tiger Woods to the contenders’ circle is not only great for team USA, in spite of his relatively poor record in this event, but more so for golf. He has the best Majors’ record of the current on course generation who are aged under fifty and was the stand out player on Tour and at the Majors from the moment of his dramatic entrée at the Masters tournament in 1997, to his last win at the US Open in 2008.
Perhaps two of the key drivers in a professional sports person’s psyche are appetite and attitude and these seem to be back in a big way for Tiger, although he might well say that, in his case, they never really went away.
This would seem to differ from Rory McIlroy’s headspace at the moment which is perhaps best illustrated by his remark of him ‘having nothing left to prove’ in golf. With a comment like this anyone might think that with his prodigious talent someone who has won ‘only’ 4 Majors and thinks that this is good enough, is either indulging in some serious reverse psychology or needs an attitude adjustment.
The Ryder Cup and match-play is not just about being a good player, but also a lot about gut temperament and determination. Perhaps Rory, by being surrounded by his team mates at this event (team Europe has on a number of occasions punched way above its combined weight in defying the form and statistical odds), may find his appetite again. The on course presence of a ‘hungry’ and motivated McIlroy will be great boost to his team’s chances.
Since the seemingly interminable win streak by the USA and the almost processional nature of this event through the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, the stranglehold being broken largely by the dramatic events in the Ryder Cup with a team Europe under Tony Jacklin’s captaincy, the USA has not lacked in appetite.
The change in the event was probably brought about by golf’s globalisation and the fact that European players started to win multiple Majors. These were contributing factors which created new levels of belief in team Europe and equally resulted in the USA realising that they now had a ‘real’ contest on their hands.
Looking back at past results and comparing the rankings of the respective teams’ players in combination with successes at the Majors, a betting person would have to say that on balance the USA has mostly had the edge – at least on paper.
This edge has not however in recent years been reflected in the results.
Perhaps the pressure cooker environment and the very upfront and ‘personal’ nature of an event with a match-play format have been the real difference and one which also seems to have favoured the European team’s psyche.
The trend of this ‘on paper’ advantage has continued with the current team line-ups and for what it’s worth, the tale of the tape at the time of writing this, to borrow a boxing term, is as follows: The lowest ranked player USA weighs in at 31 (Bradley) for the USA and at 44 (Olesen) for Europe
Team USA’s average world ranking is 14, while it is 17.6 for Europe and the USA players take the winners of 8 of the majors in the last two seasons to France; advantage USA - perhaps?
Both teams have a mix of experience, with past exposure to the pressures peculiar to playing in the Ryder Cup both as winners and losers. The respective captain’s hopes will be that these inclusions will leaven the mix with those players entering the fray for the first time.
Finally - how important is ‘home-town’ advantage?
As golf is not in essence a team sport, the impact of a home-town contest has not been analysed in any real detail.
Any player seeing a course for the first time, given that the modern players travel extensively and very often to play on courses that they have never played before, should not really be considered as a factor.
The advantage largely attributed to the ‘home-crowd’ should also not be a factor to a golf match……but could it influence the outcome?
In this latter context we like to think of ourselves as a restrained sporting community and not one which is given to the type of overt histrionics, routinely displayed by soccer players for example.
That said two of the most glaring breaches in this polite and decorous history have occurred at Ryder Cups - those contests at Kiawah Island (the War on the Shore) and Brookline.
Ironically both these events were in the USA and it was the intemperate involvement of the crowds (or was the ‘rah rah’ in fact instigated by the US players?) and not only the fine golf of the American players, that eventually got to the Europeans and despite any number of books and articles on the subject, the jury is still divided on the causes, largely and predictably enough along partisan lines!
So who will win?
It will be too close to call and naturally I will be rooting for Europe. However my real hope is that the golf will be excellent (it usually is), for the result to hang in the balance until the final shots are played, the crowds fervent and impartial in their appreciation and the weather (always a factor in Europe) is ‘kind’, both to those watching and those playing. However the overwhelming hope, in a world increasingly absorbed by the sensational and the sound bite, will be that whatever the final result, golf and sport in general will have been seen to be the winner.
I can’t wait – roll on Paris!
Article by John Cockayne - The Wordsmith Original Copywriting Services