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Spinning Sam Ryder
Samuel Ryder would spin in his grave if he knew what had become of the Cup that he presented to the Professioanl Golfers' Association (PGA) in 1927 for team matchplay between the best 12 pros in GB and the USA.

His aim was to foster already well-established friendships between the best in the game. The cup that he presented merely formalised the matches that had become a feature of post-Open festivities since Jock Hutchison had set up a head-to-head between the best Scots pros against the visiting Americans at Gleneagles, after his Open success in his native St Andrews in 1920.

Little changed after there was a cup to play for. The wealthy Americans (mostly ex-pat pros) continued to patronise their UK counterparts in the hotel bars and restaurants and, sadly, and increasingly, on the course as well.

No player was paid for representing his country and few anticipated anything other than 'something in an envelope' from the beneficiary of an astute bet. But the whole show was conducted with some style in the true spirit of the game - as well as with decorum and taste. No one got rich on the proceeds and no one was fleeced in the process. Respect was widespread and universal. So what happened? Where did it all go so hellishly and cynically wrong?

Well, just as Adam donated a rib and found that he had generated Eve - something over which he had no control whatsoever - so the PGA generated the European Tour. And, just as in Adam's case, it seemed like a good idea at the time. The Tour flourished with corporate business expertise while the PGA lumbered along on little more than the income derived from the Ryder Cup every four years to boost its coffers.

It was in 1991 that the Tour presented the PGA with the apple that it could not refuse. For 50% of the proceeds from the Ryder Cup the Tour would supply the business expertise required to make the event a real money-spinner. It was not a proposition; it was a demand!

Tournament players had become so far divorced from the club pros represented by the PGA, grown so fat on the largesse of the pots on offer, that they no longer shared common interests. They simply demanded half of the Ryder Cup income. The PGA owned the cup itself but the Tour had the players so 50% of the income was to be put into the Tour's fund or the top 12 would not be playing.

Ostensibly the team was still playing unpaid, solely for the honour of representation. In fact, the Ryder Cup income ploughed back into the tournament pots significantly added to tournament player's income. With possibly as much as 70% of the total Tour cash fund going to the top 10 players' winnings in a season, the Ryder Cup team was essentially paying itself. Not surprising then that the Tour wants to make what it can from the Ryder Cup and, not surprising that the Tour players will support any decision made by their executives to elevate Ryder Cup income, for it is their income.

So, it has come to pass that the Ryder Cup is up for sale. The highest bidder determines where it is staged. Golf is no longer of pertinence to where it is played - money is the only factor in the decision making process. Thus hard cash has taken the matches to the mediocrity of the De Vere Belfry and Valderama in recent years and will take it to the K-Club (whatever that is) in Ireland and to some as yet unfinished course in Wales.

This is not written with the taste of sour grapes because the Cup is not to be played in Scotland until 2014. It is surely the case that everyone with a love of the game wants to see this tremendous event played over the best courses and it is also surely the case that this has not been evident for some time. It is also important that we see a return to access for all to witness the greatest event in the game and that it be retrieved from being an increasingly corporate event that is impertinent to it.

It was hard to swallow the reasoning for the Cup being played at Valderama. It was argued that 'many Spaniards would be exposed to the game and hopefully take it up'. I was at Valderama and the only Spaniards I met were selling inflated priced soft drinks and deplorable fast foods. Hardly surprising since access prices were about equivalent to the average Spaniard's monthly salary.

Thankfully the Tour executives have spared us from the rational behind the K-Club and Celtic Manor venues other than that they made the highest bids. The Tour executives would do well to read the Midas fable and someone should take them through the Faust story.

The cynicism is, of course, execrable but the spin that is put on it is even worse. The spin, however, is as nothing compared to the rotations that Sam Ryder must be making in his grave for the Cup that he presented in good faith has become the symbol for divisiveness in the modern game.

©    2 - OCTOBER 2001

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