Sunday, September 21, 2008
The best cup money can rent
The Ryder Cup is one of those sporting competitions (like the Stanley Cup) that sounds like it has a corporate sponsor even though it doesn't. The biennial golf matches between the U.S.A. and Europe doesn't have a sponsor, and doesn't have any prize money, but still tends to be one of the best competitions there is.
Most golf tournaments are individual competitions, where every player plays for him or herself, and the winner is the player with the fewest strokes, but the Ryder Cup is a team event where the winning team is the one with the most points, which are won in each match between players. This provides a team dynamic in an individual sport.
The Ryder Cup matches also alternate between Europe and the U.S.A. which should create an alternate home field advantage for each side, but going into this year's Cup at Valhalla in Louisville, the Europeans had won four in a row and six of the last seven. And with the best golfer in the world on the sidelines, the Europeans looked like a lock to win another one.
On paper, the Europeans looked like a prohibitive favorite, with two of the top players in the world (Padraig Harrington and Sergio Garcia), but even without Tiger, the Americans ended up rolling the Europeans 16.5 - 11.5. I think it might have been because of Tiger's absence, because without their stud, the other American players tried to pick it up a notch, which is a recipe for winning.
The Ryder Cup atmosphere is unlike anything else in sports, with partisan cheering for one of the sides (depending on which side of the Atlantic the Cup is on), but rendered with the respect and etiquette of the game of golf. So everyone sits quietly while Garcia lines up his six-footer for par, but erupts in chants of "U.S.A! U.S.A.!" after he misses it. It's like (American or International) football fandom at a golf event.
In the end, the Americans prevailed this time, but need to defend in a couple of years playing on the road at Celtic Manor in Newport, Wales. The Ryder Cup really is the best cup that money can rent.