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Ryder Cup 2012

The first post on Ron’s View, just over four years ago, had the 2008 Ryder Cup as its subject. I wrote the post in the evening after the three-day competition ended. With this year’s edition ending yesterday, it seems only appropriate that I return to the subject.

The Ryder Cup competition takes place every two years, between a US team of 12 golfers and a European team of 12. You can read the history in many places. The short version: competition starts in 1927, matching US and British players. Along the way, Northern Irish and Irish golfers are added. After World War II, the US always wins. People lose interest. In 1979, the GB&I team is expanded to include continental Europe. Suddenly, the competition heats up. Europe begins to win, thanks to a new generation of golfers who are at the same time winning their share of the four annual major tournaments. Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, José María Olazábal, Colin Montgomerie (well, he never won a major, but he came close, and was a strong Ryder Cup player). The European team typically doesn’t have the depth of the US team, but they keep finding ways to win. Interest expands. TV coverage increases. Fanatical fans show up. Rowdiness ensues. It becomes a major international sporting event, attracting the interest even of people who otherwise pay no attention to golf. It’s a happening. People dress like morons and hoot and holler. Along the way, some extraordinary golf is played.

Why is it so exciting? I’d say the format. Not that I’m striking out into new territory with that suggestion. But it’s the correct explanation.

First of all, the scoring is match play. In any given match, you count holes won, not strokes played. That makes each hole a mini-match. Second, on Friday and Saturday, the players compete in teams, two against two, four matches each morning and four each afternoon. One daily session consists of foursomes competition, surely the coolest golf format in existence. Each pair alternates playing a ball on each hole. If you’re my partner, you tee off on hole 1 and we alternate until one of us gets the ball in the cup. On the next hole, I tee off. Then you, then me, etc. The other daily session features fourball — each of the four players plays his own ball and the best one of the four, if there is a best one, wins the hole. This opens the door to one player taking risks while another plays it safe, introducing additional opportunities for strategy.

There’s nothing like Ryder Cup Sunday. The twelve players on each side get matched up and go out in singles matches, one against one. Twelve simultaneous matches are played, each having its own drama of as many as eighteen mini-matches. (I should explain that in match play, if let’s say you arrive at the 18th hole having won 6 holes while your opponent has won 4, with 7 holes drawn or “halved” 7 holes, then you are 2 up. There’s no point playing the 18th. The match is over and you have won, 2 and 1, which is to say you are 2 up with 1 hole to go. In the most extreme case, if you win the first 10 holes, your opponent can’t catch up and the match ends there, with you having one 10 and 8.)

The excitement of the last day is intensified because the overall team score can shift back and forth in the blink of an eye. One team may have 6 players ahead, another 4 ahead, with 2 even, but the margins may be just 1 or 2 holes one way or the other in each match, so that in half an hour perhaps the status of half those matches can flip. A missed put here, a dramatic chip in there, and the overall complexion changes instantly. Which is pretty much what happened yesterday.

Just one example. In the match between Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose, Mickelson was up 1 on the 16th hole and poised to go up 2 unless Rose could sink a hard putt, which he did to halve the hole and keep himself just 1 back. On 17, Mickelson thought he sank a devilishly difficult chip from off the green, which would probably win the hole and match, but it didn’t go in. Rose then sank his 40 foot putt to win the hole instead and draw even. The ever gracious Mickelson smiled at Rose and applauded. Then, on 18, Rose made another great putt for birdie to win the hole and, in fact, the match. It was that kind of day for Europe, which came from way back to win the cup.

An extraordinary day of golf. But not one I can celebrate openly, unless I’m looking to move. Gail isn’t as charmed by the greatness of the moment. She’s in mourning mode. I must tread carefully.

For the closing word, I turn to Taiwan’s Next Media Animation, or nma.tv, which in its inimitable way put together a video that captures the excitement of Ryder Cup 2012. I’ve embedded the video up top. (Hat tip: Geoff Shackelford. I have written previously about NMA’s work here.)

Categories: Animation, Golf
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