It is the provenance of old men to reflect upon better times with a fervent longing to turn the clock back and start again. But there was a time when the Ryder Cup was played in the true spirit of the game. A time when one actually believed that the players wanted to participate in the event because of the honour in it. A time when neither nationality nor personality were of greater significance than the game itself.
Now, in the words of the Irish poet William Butler Yeats: 'All is changed, changed utterly, a terrible beauty is born.'
Sam Torrance and Curtis Strange may have worked wonders in restoring some balance to the fervour that has proceeded the playing of the Cup in recent times, but even with the sobering reflections upon the events of 9/11, their task has not been easy. They have had the hardest tasks of any past captains' and they need all of the help that they can get for one has the uneasy feeling that the game cannot take another debacle like that which occurred at the Country Club of the Boston suburb of Brookline three years ago.
It is one thing to forgive and forget but quite another not to learn from what has gone before. What transpired on the 17th green in the match between Olazabal and Leonard at Brookline (pictured) simply reflected in bold upper-case lettering what had long since been written and re-written.
Bad faith, bad manners, bad sportsmanship and bad temperament predominated in the event long before Brookline and some sort of adjustment was long overdue. It is sad to reflect that the catastrophe of 9/11 was required to restore some semblance of sobriety, humility and respect to the staging of the Ryder Cup.
The Ryder Cup is both the front window and the shop window of golf and, as such, reflects not only current taste and style but also the produce of the pro game. It has to be said that the front window has required dressing for some time and that the produce in the shop window was in need of refreshing.
Deterioration of the shop window set in some time ago. There are probably few that will remember the acrimonious tussle at Birkdale in '69 in the match between Gallacher/Huggett and Still/Hill. The players were almost at one another's throats and the crowd was baying like hounds after a hare. Under the captaincies of Eric Brown and Sam Snead, rough diamonds and determined men, the outcome was halved - a tremendous achievement at the time for the GB&I side.
But the Birkdale crowd had started the trend of bad behaviour that would come to blight the game at the Belfry when Europe eventually won the cup after 28 years of failure. The intervening years between '69 and '85 are best forgotten, although it is hard not to point an accusing finger at past players now posing as TV pundits - Ken Brown and Mark James - who would have you believe that we are sufficiently stupid to have forgotten the misdemeanours of their day.
The hard-nosed approach to the game was accelerated through the European wins of '87, '95 and '97. The excesses of the Belfry were repeated at Muirfield Village in Ohio when the colourful Spanish duo tarnished their genius with schadenfraude. Kiawah Island was simply an American response to these excesses. The bad taste adoption of a Desert Storm theme was an expression of the times that would otherwise never have entered the realms of the game.
Brookline '99 was purely and simply a response to the excesses of the European players and the crowd at the Belfry in '97 and the hype of the US press, aided and abetted by Ben Crenshaw and his friend Mr Bush, the then governor of Texas.
At Brookline in '99, the man who rose to become president George W Bush, took it upon himself to read lieutenant colonel William Barret Travis' letter from the Alamo garrison while under siege. The US team was four points down at the time with only the singles matches left to play. The outcome of the event is history but Ben Crenshaw, the US team captain, said that Bush played no small part in his team's success.
One would hesitate to suggest that president Bush could play some part in this year's event but, were I to be in Baghdad on Saturday night with the US team trailing, I would be packing my bags for sure.
The front window of golf became smutty in the late 60s and simply became increasingly grimy until it was finally utterly sullied at the century's close. The produce on offer in the shop, certainly what you could see of it behind the grime of spin and hype was not of very great quality.
Colin Montgomerie's thoughtlessly hurtful remarks about Brad Faxon's divorce and Scott Hoch's lack of bottle contributed to the Brookline boogie on the 17th green, as had the jingoism that preceded Kiawah Island.
This year the US team is trying to convey an attitude of indifference to the outcome of this year's Cup. I do not believe it but I certainly welcome it for I would like to see a return to some sanity about the proceedings.
The beer swilling middle management of middle England who will spew forth from the hospitality tents at the De Vere Belfry this week will doubtless not share this feeling.
Despite Torrance and Stranges' attempts to bring back balance into the event, the British press has attempted to raise the temperature through the vilification of Woods' apparent disinterest in the event. This is irresponsible for Woods' attitude is as it should be for an event that takes a team format in an otherwise individualistic game - and for an event that is supposed to be a friendly celebration of the values of the game.
It is perhaps gratuitous and provocative to raise the nightmares of past Ryder Cup indiscretions. But one should never forget the revulsion of the silent majority in the game to the events that we have witnessed in the past that came to a head at Brookline. Indeed, the silent majority rightly questioned then whether the Ryder Cup was worth sustaining. Everything, after all, has its own lifetime and even a silver cup can become corroded.
An embattled De Vere Belfry this year will certainly signal a call for the cup's demise and the loss of one of the great events in world sport. The shop window needs cleaning.
Thursday afternoon at the Belfry will inescapably become a memorial service for the victims of the catastrophe of 9/11. It should also become a service of celebration of the greatest sporting event in the great game as every lost golfer at ground zero would have wished.
To the silent majority I make the plea; pray for peace.
|| 23 - SEPTEMBER 2002