Thought of the Day
It’s not an optical illusion. It just looks like one
A week is a long time…
Supposedly in politics, at least – but the same could also be said of golf. Virtually all season whenever I have thought about the Ryder Cup, and I try not to do that too much until the event is almost upon us, it has been with a quiet, almost smug sense of confidence that Europe is going to bring Samuel Ryder’s small but perfectly formed trophy back where it belongs. We have, after all, 49 of the world’s top-50 players – or so it seems – and Europeans have won seven times on the US Tour this year (including Majors, and Justin Rose’s two victories). It is necessary to remind ourselves, perhaps, that a British or European winner in America, until comparatively recently, was as rare as Monty congratulating an on-course photographer for a job well done. Our marquee players were content to be the big fish of the comparatively small pond that is the European Tour but now they’re mixing it with the best in the world on a regular basis and, as it turns out, proving themselves to be voracious sharks rather than timid minnows (okay, enough of the water-borne metaphors, Ed). In addition, to boost our confidence even further, Tiger’s game remains in freefall, Phil Mickelson hasn’t won since The Masters in April, and several of the names already confirmed for the American team – such as Hunter Mahan, Jeff Overton, Matt Kuchar and Dustin Johnson, for example, don’t exactly clutch your heart with an icy fist of foreboding.
And yet… A little closer analysis suggests that the US side is shaping up nicely. The players I have mentioned are in the team on merit, and there looks to be a good balance of youth and experience, along with a nice mixture of dramatically exciting bomb it merchants, like Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson, alongside steady-Eddie dependables such as Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson and Steve Stricker.
In Europe, meanwhile, Colin Montgomerie has painted himself into an uncomfortable corner regarding his captain’s selections. Being on record as saying: ‘I expect there will be about eight candidates for my three wild-card picks and it should be a given that they turn up at the final event,’ these words are now a hostage to fortune because we know that none of the ‘name’ players on the fringes of selection – Padraig Harrington, Paul Casey, Luke Donald and Justin Rose – will be at that event at Gleneagles on Thursday. So if Monty is true to his convictions, he will pick none of them, (but no-one believes he will be that bold) which leaves him having to go back on his word and disappoint people like Francesco Molinari and Simon Dyson, who have been working their backsides off to stay in contention.
Whatever Monty decides he will face serious criticism and quite possibly a divided team-room at Celtic Manor.
Ultimately, however, I think it may come down not to Monty but to his American counterpart, Corey Pavin. Two years ago in Valhalla almost every observer was struck by the unity, cohesion, and willingness to scrap for each other that characterised the US team, all qualities we had previously considered the exclusive trademark of the Europeans, and I think it was no coincidence that Tiger wasn’t in the side. If Pavin applies logic he won’t pick the world number one this time – his form simply does not justify it – and if that happens, I believe the Americans will be stronger as a result. However, I’m not sure Pavin is brave enough to be that radical and if so, the chances for Europe look just a little bit better.
Either way, it’s shaping up to hopefully be the closest Ryder Cup, certainly of those played in Europe, for quite some time.
Does size matter?
Watching Martin Kaymer’s impressive and fully justified victory in the US PGA championship, and the post-victory presentation, reminded me yet again that the Wanamaker trophy he held aloft is certainly the biggest, and probably the ugliest, major trophy of the four. And I don’t think it is a coincidence that the fourth Major of the year has always been regarded as the weaker or less prestigious of the big championships (despite the fact that recently it has also proved to be the most exciting and therefore best to watch) but has the biggest pot awarded to the winner.
On the European Tour over the last decade or so we have seen the Middle Eastern countries of Dubai, Qatar and Abu Dhabi trying to establish their golfing credentials and one of the ways, it seems, is to have the biggest, ugliest prize – witness the hideous, overblown coffee pot given to the winner of the Omega Desert Classic, which takes at least three strong men to lift. It used to be said that if you wanted to know how corrupt and dictatorial a South American president was, just look at his police force or military – the greater the despot, the more elaborate and be-medalled his flunkeys tended to be.
I think the same applies to golf trophies – the greater the feeling of inadequacy, the bigger and gaudier the prize.
Quote of the Week
If you think it’s hard to meet new people, try picking up the wrong golf ball.