By the time this rag hits the shelves we’ll have swallowed all the Ryder Cup analysis we can stomach, so I’m not going there. This is not a post-mortem, it’s an admission of misdiagnosis. My bad — I thought we were going to lose.
That dog-and-pony show of an opening ceremony should have been a dead giveaway that something strange was about to happen. I can understand seeing Pistons coach Larry Brown and Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman up there — this was suburban Detroit — but Kathy Ireland? Donald Trump and Amelia Earhart? (OK, maybe it was The Donald and actress Angie Everhart, not aviatrix Amelia.) I loved hearing the national anthems, though the American one was a dog’s-breakfast rendition, all frilly and trilly and silly, mercifully drowned out by the jet-fighter flyover. Another high point was the horrified look on Chaka Khan’s face when 40,000 white golf fans tried to dance as she sang Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.”
And then there were the captains, Governor Arnold Schwarze-langer and Sheriff Hal Stetson.
I played with Bernhard Langer for the best part of 20 years, and I can honestly say that up until this Ryder Cup I really had no idea what kind of guy he was, other than a Bible-thumper and a very good skier, two qualities I felt would give him a better chance of surviving an avalanche than a Ryder Cup. Langer’s choice of Anders Forsbrand, another Scripture quoter, to be his ass’t-cap was a stunner as well, at least to me and some of the sinners who were trying to make the team. In my mind’s bleary eye, I foresaw a stereotypical European fracas: The Germans would bugger up the battle plan, the British would ask the Americans for help, the Irish would get hammered and forget why they were fighting, the Spaniards would fall asleep after lunch and the French would surrender.
But my worries were unfounded. My native Europe held together for once, behind Captain Langer.
I’m happy to say I got to know a little more about Bernhard. He turns out to be both very cool and very warm. In all the years I had known him, I’d only noticed the first part of that equation. At Oakland Hills he did exactly what was needed: He got the hell out of the way and let the boys play.
Sheriff Hal? I don’t think he did a whole lot wrong. There was no air of mystery to him: His players knew from the git-go that they might not get to partner up with their best chums. They were supposed to be able to get up for this event; they just didn’t. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson proved that they put their pants on one leg at a time, and at Oakland Hills they appeared to be trying to get into the same pair. I admired Hal’s sense of theater in pairing them up and was among those who thought it a good idea at the time. Until I saw the look on Tiger’s face as the pairings were announced. On Tiger’s face, a broad smile with no teeth is not a smile.
But to be fair, history tells us that no matter what your world ranking, anyone who gets drawn against Colin Montgomerie in the Ryder Cup is liable to get his buttocks served to him on a plate. Say what you like about Monty, this thingy is his deal. He’s a perfect example of why the European team always overachieves. In Europe, a player is judged not just by his wins, major or otherwise, but by his Ryder Cup record. Monty may not have won a major, but even if he never does, his play in golf’s greatest stress test will mark his place as one of the finest players in history.
In closing, let me note that the Ryder Cup was exciting enough, but my favorite part was the announcing crew’s heroic struggle to find exciting, innovative ways to agree with Johnny Miller.
“Once again John, I concur.” — Gary Koch
“Yup, Johnny — right on the money.” — Bob Murphy
“You’re not wrong, Johnny.” — Mark Rolfing
“Why the hell am I here?” — Roger Maltbie
Oh, and one other thing: The Europeans have always had the advantage of being regarded as Ryder Cup underdogs. How many times do the Americans have to lose before they get a wee turn at that?