Each team was clad in matching uniforms. The enormous crowd roared in support of its squad. Flags were waved and post-victory champagne was popped. The U-S-A cheers were screamed like it was the 1980 Miracle on Ice all over again. A football game? Maybe a baseball game? It certainly doesn’t sound like golf, but the Ryder Cup is something different, something more than just golf.
The first Ryder Cup matches were played in 1927 at the Worcester Country Club in Worcester, Mass. between the United States and Great Britain. After continued U.S. dominance in what was, after all, an unfair match at least by the numbers the British team was extended to all of Europe in 1979.
For one weekend, every other year, the U.S. faces off against Europe in one of golf’s greatest traditions. Gone are the lengthy leader boards, replaced by the excitement of head-to-head competition, which dramatically changes the make-up of the game.
For the casual sports fan, golf does not have the same appeal as many popular team sports, but the team-oriented aspect of the Ryder Cup allows for fans to get considerably more involved. It is a lot harder to get an audience behind a single golfer in a large field than it is to root for a team of 12 representing our country and anyway, what could be easier than rooting for America?
The Ryder Cup is comprised of 28 matches. The first two days consist of eight fourball matches (two versus two, alternating shots between partners) and eight foursome matches (two versus two, team with best individual score winning the hole). The final on Sunday is made up of 12 singles matches. Each match is worth one point and a tied match after 18 holes is split half point for each side, thus the winning team is the first to 14.5 points.
In a golf season that has been overshadowed by a knee injury to Tiger Woods, the 37th Ryder Cup this past weekend at Valhalla in Louisville, Ky. gave the sport a much needed PR boost. After the European team completed its first ever hat trick of victories (2002, 2004, 2006), the young American team with the game’s greatest player conspicuously absent was considered a big underdog against the stacked European team. The pre-game predictions didn’t faze the Americans, who gave the crowd something to cheer about all weekend with a thrilling victory.
The 16.5-11.5 result was the largest margin of victory for the Americans in 27 years.
What makes the atmosphere of the Ryder Cup so special is that it is such an abnormality in the often-repetitive golf season. The biennial event revitalized the careers of some, like Jim Furyk, and officially launched the careers of others such as rookie sensation Anthony Kim, who handily beat the Spanish Ryder Cup star, Sergio Garcia, in Sunday’s singles matches.
The American team was filled with remarkable story lines. The two hometown Kentucky boys, Kenny Perry and J.B. Holmes, inspired the crowd all weekend. The Ryder Cup rookies, 23-year-old Kim and 26-year-olds Hunter Mahan and Holmes, led the youth movement at Valhalla. Furyk whose 17th-hole victory on Sunday sealed the Cup had been on the opposite side of the clinching putt in 2002, finally finding redemption six years later. The fan favorite, Boo Weekley, had the raucous crowd ‘booing” in support for three straight days. And more familiar faces, such as Phil Mickelson and Justin Leonard, provided steady leadership for their younger teammates. The American team was half made up of Ryder Cup rookies, the six of whom went a combined 9-4-8 over the weekend.
In addition to the 12 golfers, the Cup Matches were a crowning achievement for captain Paul Azinger. Azinger put his reputation completely on the line by overhauling the team selection process and taking increased responsibility by doubling the number of captain’s selections.
‘I poured my heart and soul into this for two years,” Azinger said after the win. ‘The players poured their heart and soul into this for one week. They deserved it. I couldn’t be happier.”
For those who watched it, the emotion of the Ryder Cup will not soon be forgotten. The un-golf-like celebrations proved just how much last weekend meant to the typically reserved golfers. Weekley, riding his driver off the first tee in a Happy Gilmore-like manner will be a lasting image of the 37th Ryder Cup, reminded competitors and fans alike that fun can, at times, still reign supreme in sports.
Starr is a member of the class of 2009.