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Countdown to Detroit
Bernhard Langer will doubtless be delighted with the outcome of the European Masters at Crans-sur Sierre. Luke Donald, Langer's wildcard captain's pick, took the laurel with the Spanish duo of Jimenez and Garcia to the fore.

But if Langer is feeling some relief with the form of his squad in the run up to September 17th, the Detroit Police Department must also be regarding European form with more than casual interest. The US as a country may be wholeheartedly behind their team but the Detroit cops must have mixed emotions in anticipating the outcome of the Ryder Cup.

Detroit, one has to understand is a rough ol' town with a long history of hyper-exuberance when it comes to celebrating sporting success. When, for instance, the Detroit Tigers won the World Series in 1984, a taxi was torched. Similarly, carried away on the euphoria of the Detroit Pistons winning the NBA title in 1990, eight people were killed and 65 taken into police custody. For the stability and wellbeing of Detroit, a European victory would be the best outcome of the Ryder Cup matches.

The 2004 playing of the Ryder Cup, just a few miles to the north of the city on the road to Grande Blanc, is not likely to pass peacefully. All the ingredients are there - the hype has begun and something like war has been declared. The USPGA has made it known that Hal Sutton has been instructed to 'win at all costs' and Hal is one of the more literal lads. After George W Bush rallied the troops with his 'Alamo' speech at Brookline in 1999, it was Hal who led the fist pumping charge on the 17th green and had most to say to the press when the Europeans cried foul. Detroit is a blue-collar town with redneck attitudes and Hal is a Detroit kinda' guy with the sort of innate parochialism that goes with stars-and-stripe underpants.

Much of the American press makes the Pittenweem Gazette appear international in outlook. Colloquial they are not and jingoism is a celestially inspired prose style to the hack pen. They know how to sell newspapers in America. One only has to reflect on the US win at Kiawah Island in 1991 when the trumpeting of the 'war on the shore' made it difficult to discern that the outcome of a golf match was the subject of the report and not some international political crisis. Many will recall the US press reports after the outcome at Brookline in 1999 when, dismally, Sam Torrance and his team were subjected to the sort of taunting one finds in a school playground. The US press are not magnanimous in victory.

Of course it will not help matters in Detroit if the US team turn up with stars and stripes head covers on their clubs. It will also be unhelpful if they turn up attired in the patriotic shirts that they wore in 2001 when Ben Crenshaw was in charge. The fact that the team's sartorial performance got more coverage in the US press than the result at the Belfry speaks volumes. Crenshaw may enjoy the reputation of a Texan with a deep interest in the history of the game and a profound respect for its traditions, but the values he propounds were little in evidence in the US team under his captaincy.

At this time and in this city, the US team needs someone with the sensitivity of Curtis Strange who made every effort to defuse the jingoism and introduce a modicum of decorum in his tenure as captain. Unlike Couples, Duval and Love, Hal Sutton has not visited the European team room to share pleasantries. Hal is not given to fraternising with the enemy and would like everyone to know it.

Hal Sutton is a rough diamond and his carat value is high. He can scratch glass with a look and in the glasshouse of the Ryder Cup he can cause a great deal of damage. He, more than anyone else can light the blue touch-paper of Detroit and one hopes that someone in the USPGA will be on constant standby with a fire extinguisher.

It won't take much to trigger things in Detroit. Some comic in the crowd may take it upon himself to meddle with Montgomerie - who could be induced to respond. Some beery guy, after one too many, may leap the intellectual divide and associate Thomas Levet with France and that country's stand on Iraq. More likely, however, a succession of high-fives from US partnerships will excite a section of the crowd and stimulate participation, applauding opposition errors and over-whooping the home teams successes. It will certainly be noisy as well as partisan.

The Detroit Police Department will doubtless be hoping that the other, and far less costly, sporting events in the Detroit area that weekend will be more attractive to the rowdy element. But Michigan is golfing country and few with clubs in the garage will want to be seen to miss the big event. The hopes of the Police Department will also have been dented with the news that Tiger Woods is back in the groove. This is Motown and the movers of Motown like nothing better than a cool dude Superstar to support.

It could all be settled so easily. The US PGA could make an appeal and Hal Sutton could remind the press and the 'fans' that golf is a game that used to be played by gentlefolk in America. But one suspects that Hal will not sacrifice his hard man image for the good of the game that made him.


©    6 - SEPTEMBER 2004



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