Oakland Hills, Detroit and much of Michigan reverberated with the celebrations for hours after Bernhard Langer's European team won the 35th playing of the Ryder Cup. European euphoria may have been incomprehensible to the few Americans who stayed for the presentation ceremony but the nine-point winning margin is unprecedented by any team from this side of the Atlantic. Indeed, one has to trawl back in the records to 1981 to find a US win on the same scale. The axis of world golf is tilting.
It was fitting that Colin Montgomerie should hole the putt that guaranteed a European win for no single player has contributed more to the last four Ryder Cup triumphs. He, more than anyone, has been at the focal centre of the new European winning habit. Monty is simply marvellous. His name will not only become etched in the history of the Cup; it will henceforth be synonymous with it. After a traumatic year during which he has, by his own standards played like a potato, he took all but one point available to him in this year's matches.
Although Monty has made his indelible mark on this event, it is with Langer that the laurels should be laid. Montgomerie was Langer's choice in the team and although every European contributed a point, it was Monty that that made the difference. Many - and I hold up my hand - felt that Monty's form did not justify his selection but Langer apparently was never in any doubt and, in retrospect there was clearly no sentiment involved. Monty did not simply play a supporting or holding role in the team, he was the leader on the links and he led by example emerging as the lynchpin of the team.
If Langer was inspired in his captain's pick, he surely had second sight in his leadership. His pairings in the fourball and foursomes games over the first two days play generated an almost unassailable European lead before the last days singles matches. But if Langer was inspired, Hal Sutton was not. Neither of his captain's picks made a significant contribution and his insistence and persistence in pairing Woods and Mickelson was disastrous and certainly cost the US team at least two points. On paper, this was his strongest pairing. By general consent, Vijay Singh excepted, those are probably the world's best two players - but it is manifestly clear that there is little love lost between them. Woods' body language throughout the first day's play, when Monty and Harrington beat them fourball in the morning and Clarke and Westwood beat them in the afternoon was clear enough. What these two great players might have done with their inspirational play with less experienced players further down the order will never be known - but it might well have been significant.
The Oakland Hills matches will doubtless be remembered for the margin of the European win but they should be recalled as establishing a yardstick for the resurrection of sportsmanship in the game. There was a bit of gung-ho and there was some partisanship, but the spirit in which the games were played was memorably refreshing. Michigan is a golfing state and its people turned out to support their team but they also showed their appreciation of good golf irrespective of the nationality of the person playing it. With the exception of those responsible for the ceremonials, every participant gave of their best. Decorum and taste have long since parted company in professional golf but the opening ceremony at Oakland Hills revealed the real extent of the separation. The ceremony was appalling, the speeches pretentious, personal and pedantic. From the onset, when a man with a peculiar hair-do called Crump appeared with an apparently mechanical crumpet, through the navel officer with attitude to a film star with a supporting cast of pop singers, it was awful. The closing ceremony was thankfully less laborious but Hal managed to thank his wife again before Bernhard followed suit and delivered what threatened to be a religious oration. It is surely wrong to expose women and children to this sort of thing, to say nothing of those of a sensitive disposition.
There is much to be learned from this Ryder Cup. Europe went into this event universally considered underdogs, despite recent tournament results and European newly acquired winning ways. It is clear that European golf is no longer the poor relation of the American version. It is equally clear from the results that Europeans are at least a match for their American counterparts. But the Sony rankings, purportedly the world golf order of merit, does not reflect that European players are anywhere near as good as the Americans. Why is this? The answer is simple enough; American tournaments are played for purse much larger than those in Europe and, since the points are awarded on dollars won, it necessarily follows that US based players will collect a great many more points than those in Europe. Even US based players who have yet to win a tournament are ranked higher than winners in Europe because their income from consistent top-20 finishes boosts their income to a level that cannot be matched by winners on the European Tour. It is hardly surprising that an increasing number of European hopefuls are choosing to play in the US and, despite hurricanes and hubris, lives in Florida.
A glance through the lists induces optimism for the 36th event in Ireland in 2006. This European team was young and vibrant and although places will have to be found for Justin Rose, Fredrik Jacobson, Graeme McDowell and the like, whoever captains the European side will have to find a place for the mighty and marvellous Montgomerie.
|| 20 - SEPTEMBER 2004