For the first time in 27 years I watched the Ryder Cup on TVjust like youinstead of being there as either an analyst, a coach or a guest. Obviously the experience was totally different, but in some ways the detachment was enlightening.
First of all, as good as the golf was, the buildup during Ryder Cup week is far too long. Writers and photographers started arriving at Celtic Manor on Monday as editors back in the office eagerly awaited news, photos and copy to fill papers and Web sites. Everyone wrote the obligatory article on the Twenty Ten course and pulled quotes from the players' and captains' press conferences. By Wednesday and Thursday, there really wasn't much left to talk about, yet columns had to be written. But because the matches didn't start until Friday, everyone was left with lots of time to pontificate, criticize and nitpick.
The nastiness and tone of some articles that filled the news vacuum really surprised me. For example, a headline in The Guardian read, "Corey Pavin seeking military help turns Ryder Cup into a nonsense." The article was a criticism of Maj. Dan Rooney, an American fighter pilot and PGA professional who founded the Folds of Honor Foundation (a charity that distributes scholarships to the spouses and children of troops injured or killed in the line of duty) giving an inspirational talk to the team. The headline was sensationalistic and the story was ridiculous, but it was effective in stirring the pot.
Secondly, while the TV broadcast showed you the shots and conveyed the support of the Welsh fans for the European team, viewers never got a feel for how friendly the two teams were with each other. A lot of fans assume that during the Ryder Cup the two sides don't get along, that they are bitter enemies, and that the heat of the competition overrides everything else.
That's simply not true.
Don't get me wrong; both teams want to win the Ryder Cup very, very badly. But many of the players are good friends, as witnessed by many of the photos and Twitter messages that have come out since the Ryder Cup concluded.
For example, after celebrating their win, the European team moved its party to the American team's room. There, Bubba Watson and Ian Poulter posed for a photo as both men smiled, arm-in-arm. Watson was also photographed arm-in-arm with Rory McIlroy Monday night. Poulter filmed his walk down the aisle during the closing ceremony, including smiles to the camera by Rickie Fowler and jokes being exchanged between Poulter and Stewart Cink. See for yourself:
Unfortunately, the TV cameras almost never capture this type of behind-the-scenes stuff, yet it happens at every Ryder Cup.
As the world's elite players compete in more events around the worldthe majors, the World Golf Championships, big money events and exhibitionsthey'll naturally become friends. So don't mistake the competitiveness you saw on TV for animosity.
Which leads me to the fantastic display of friendship, and leadership, that Cink and Phil Mickelson showed in the media center Monday. The whole American team circled the wagons around Hunter Mahan, who was understandably emotional after chunking a chip shot on the 17th hole. Up and down the line they said it would be unfair to think that his loss to Graeme McDowell was the reason the U.S. team lost.
Cink went so far as to grab a microphone and tell everyone how proud he was of Mahan, saying he performed like a champ and that a lot of players wouldn't want to be put in the same position.
When Mahan was unable to answer a question posed to him by a reporter, and tears started to well up in his eyes, Mickelson moved the microphone and asked for another question.
Cink and Mickelson, veterans of several Ryder Cups, displayed the leadership and sense of team-cohesiveness that many people think the U.S. team lacks.
For years the Americans have been criticized as being selfish and not caring enough about the Ryder Cup. Fans and scribes alike have said that the Europeans play more as a team and bond together, which is why they've been successful in recent years. The common perception is that when Europe wins, the players care more and are a team; when America wins, it's because the players have superior talent. But the emotion and camaraderie shown on that podium should put an end to those ridiculous notions.
Jim Furyk may have said it best. "We know what [the Ryder Cup] means to us. Whatever you all thought in the past, whatever you've all written in the past, it's your observations, the way you feel," he said on Monday. "But that judgment really, I mean, we know what it means. I'm glad maybe finally you've all figured it out."
I just wish that fanssitting at home as I was last weekendwere made aware of the whole story at the Ryder Cup. Not just the stuff that makes for good headlines.