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Anyone For Golf?

Anyone For Golf?

I must admit, I’ve never been a huge fan of golf. It’s not that I dislike the game per se, it’s just that I can’t seem to get excited about it. Of course, I’m familiar with the big names; those players who have constantly dominated the leader boards in recent years. The likes of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose. Other names though, I’m less aware of. At the mention of Tommy Fleetwood, for example, I might say, ‘Is that the guy with the long hair?’

I was, of course, aware of the Ryder Cup taking place in Paris last month but my laid back ‘take it or leave it’ attitude towards the age-old sport remained unchanged. My husband, on the other hand, was behaving like a child in the run up to Christmas. He was literally counting the days (and hours) until the first fourball emerged from the club house on that crisp, sunny Friday morning. His excitement was palpable. I tried to mirror his shameless enthusiasm but being forced out of bed at 6.30am in time for the first tee-off didn’t exactly enamour me to his cause. Neither did it help when I asked him to explain the difference between a fourball and a foursome. His look of incredulity was priceless. I left him to it and went to make breakfast. I still don’t know the answer.
But it wasn’t just my husband who had turned into a golf-obsessed, couch potato overnight. The whole world, it seemed, had gone Ryder Cup mad! So what was it about this bi-annual tournament to ignite such a response?

The very first Ryder Cup took place in 1927 between Great Britain and Ireland and the United States. The British team was extended to include Europe in 1979, mainly thanks to the late, great, Seve Ballesteros, who wanted a slice of the action. The competition is named after Samuel Ryder, an English businessman who donated the trophy. I doubt he ever imagined the euphoria that winning his humble trophy would evoke. Particularly as there is no prize money involved. Yes, believe it or not, those competing for the Ryder Cup do it entirely for bragging rights with no financial incentive whatsoever. Apparently.

Team USA got off to a flying start in Friday’s fourballs giving themselves a 3-1 advantage. The afternoon’s foursomes, however, turned things around for Europe who ended the day with a 5-3 lead. (What IS the difference between a fourball and a foursome?)

Listening to my husband’s accounts of the day’s action, I found myself more interested than usual in his golfing tales. I was particularly surprised to learn that Tiger Woods and his partner, Patrick Reed, had lost their opening match against Europe’s Tommy Fleetwood (Is that the guy with the long hair?) and Francesco Molinari (Who?). ‘Didn’t Tiger Woods just win the Tour Championship in Atlanta?’ I asked, keen to show off my (limited) golfing knowledge.
‘Yes, but he’s got a bad back,’ came the reply.

Must be all that money he carries around.

I may not have known much about ‘Moliwood’ (as Europe’s winning duo, Molinari and Fleetwood, were now known), but I did know at least one player in each of the other foursome teams.

Garcia, McIlroy and Rose were names I’d come across countless times before and I surprised myself by whooping with delight at the news of their wins.

‘Are you getting excited about golf?’ my husband asked, with at least one raised eyebrow.
Surely not.

The next morning I was a little less reluctant to ride the Ryder Cup wave (well, if you can’t beat them…), so I took my place on the sofa ready to be enthralled. I’d already witnessed the crowd’s boisterous behaviour on the opening day with cries of ‘Get in the hole!’ a regular accompaniment to each tee shot, but I was somewhat taken aback by the actions of the players themselves. What happened to etiquette? The ridiculous snobbery associated with golf is one of the reasons I don’t watch it. Or play it. Although I did take lessons many years ago, before coming to the conclusion that there are better things to do than hit a ball with a stick for five hours (or more, in my case) at a time. Watching Saturday morning’s fourballs, however, was astonishing. Gone were the discreet nods of thanks to an appreciative audience, or the lifting of a cap in humble response. Instead, the players were punching the air with joy, high-fiving their partner, even chest-bumping on the greens! Clearly, this trophy meant more to them than the average PGA tournament. But why?

Since 1979, Europe has won the Ryder Cup eleven times. The USA emerged victorious eight times. Only one year (1989), resulted in a tie. It’s the most important team tournament in the golfing calendar and competition for selection is fierce. Each captain must select twelve players to represent his team. The USA captain (Jim Furyk) was selected by the PGA of America and Europe’s captain (Denmark’s Thomas Bjørn) was chosen by the European Tour. Team Europe is determined as follows:

-The top four players from the European points list
-The four highest-ranking players on the World points list (excluding those already qualified above)
-Four ‘captain’s picks’
The American team is determined slightly differently in that the top eight players are selected from the American points list plus four of the captain’s own selections. In other words, if you don’t make the grade from the necessary lists, you’d better hope that the captain likes you.
So, having made the team, donned their colours and pumped up the spectators to fever pitch, the players were clearly ready for another day of competitive fairway action. Now this was my kind of golf! The morning’s fourballs saw Europe win 3-1. The afternoon’s foursomes were a tie at 2-2. (Remind me what the difference is again?) This meant Europe would be going into the final day with a 10-6 lead.

Sunday was singles day, the rules of which, thankfully, I did understand. Rory McIlroy was up first against American’s Justin Thomas. Well, that’s one in the bag for Europe, I thought to myself. Lesson number one – never be overconfident. Rory had an absolute nightmare at the 18th. Not only did his ball land in the bunker (twice), he then found the water with this third shot. A horrible end to his Ryder Cup tournament and a gifted point to the US.

Europe’s Justin Rose didn’t have it easy either, losing 3&2 to Simpson. (3&2, in case you’re wondering, means Simpson was leading by 3 holes and there were only 2 holes left, making it impossible for Rose to either win or draw). Bearing in mind that Justin Rose had, only eight days earlier, won a $10million bonus for being the highest scoring golfer on the PGA tour, it was a disappointing and somewhat surprising result.

Equally surprising was Tiger Wood’s defeat at the hands of Jon Rahm (Who?). In fact, Tiger’s defeat meant he’d failed to win a point at the 2018 Ryder Cup and lost his singles match for the first time in 21 years. Sunday’s results were proving to be far from predictable.

The match between Casey and Koepka was all square and the Fleetwood (Is that the guy with the long hair?) and Finau contest resulted in a win for the US. The European crowd were beginning to fidget.

Up next came Ian Poulter and Dustin Johnson. I had no recollection of seeing Johnson before, despite him being the world’s number one golfer (until being knocked off his perch by Justin Rose). Clearly, Johnson was having a bad day and found the water more times than he’ll care to remember. The match saw a passionate Poulter finishing 2 up.

By this time, Thorbjorn Olesen had already beaten Jordan Spieth 5&4, so Poulter’s win took Europe’s points tally to 13.5. They needed 14.5 to win. Up stepped Francesco Molinari. After three days of watching this Italian golfing talent, I no longer needed to ask ‘Who?’ He’d already secured maximum points from the first two days of the tournament and was on course for a Ryder Cup whitewash. Fitting then, that he should be the one to wrap up proceedings for a European victory. Sadly, it didn’t come from a cool 20ft putt. Neither did it come from a masterful chip. It came from a disastrous tee shot from his opponent, Phil Mickelson, who, having stuck his ball in the water at the 16th, promptly conceded the match. Not that it mattered. However it ended, Molinari became the first European ever to score five points in Ryder Cup history. Bravo!

The scenes that followed ranged from emotional (some players hugged, kissed and cried) to euphoric (others ran laps around the green with their arms in the air). Wives ran from their positions in the crowd to congratulate their husbands (and everyone else’s) and champagne was sprayed and drank in equal quantities.

As news of the victory spread, so too did the volume. However, four matches were still being played. I pitied those players unable to celebrate but admired their composure as they continued their games, securing another 3 points for Europe. Henrik Stenson won his match against Bubba Watson, Alex Noren beat Bryson DeChambeau and, more importantly, Sergio Garcia defeated Rickie Fowler, thus seeing him overtake Nick Faldo as Europe’s all-time leading points scorer in the Ryder Cup with 25.5 points. Not bad for a ‘wild card’ selection.

By now, the party was in full swing. Paris, it seemed, was getting used to victory celebrations and this one could rival any of those seen after France’s World Cup victory in July. The scene in my own lounge was pretty jubilant too as I joined my husband running rings around the sofa and, once more (this time, unreservedly) whooping in delight. Who would’ve thought that a game of golf could induce such merriment? In fact, who would’ve predicted that Tommy Fleetwood (you know, the guy with the long hair) could be my new hero? And who would’ve known that a shy, little known (in my world, anyway) Italian called Francesco, could break American hearts?

I still may not be prepared to waste an entire day trying to coax a tiny ball into an equally tiny hole but I may be slightly more willing to watch a game or two on the TV, particularly if ‘Moliwood’ are making an appearance. As for the Ryder Cup, roll on Whistling Straights. Wherever that is.

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