Warming Up for the Warburg Cup


It was one of those vintage Gary Player moments - he quoted Shakespeare on Friday just before the second UBS Warburg Cup matches got under way, and it was one of those defining moments of televison.
When we came on the air live, the very first thing the viewer saw was Donna Caponi asking U.S. team captain Arnold Palmer a quick question. Immediately following, it was my turn with Rest of World captain Player.
My question was, 'I know you like your team's chances, but you also like this format don't you?'
Mr. Player, as if scripted and on cue, gave this impromptu soliloquy that eventually resulted in his son and caddy Wayne Player - who has obviously been witness to countless similar public performances by his father - breaking out in laughter seemingly at both the look in my eyes and the depth to which his father went to pull out this particular one. It was a classic, delivered with his typical conviction.
There couldn't have possibly been a better way to kick off our coverage than to open the show with two of the game's greatest legends - and certainly its two greatest ambassadors - talking about their thoughts on this very special competition.
'Shakespeare once said, 'A man for all seasons,'' was how Player started in a poetic attempt to capture both the nostalgia and the romance of this two-year-old competition. His point was that the age of players in the field spanned four decades.
However, in hindsight, it could have had plenty more significance, because the players were men for all seasons - and not particularly by choice. They had to endure four seasons in three days.
Wednesday was the first day of the Cup, and all pro-am participants were shown exactly why real estate at this seaside destination was higher than some of the scores recorded during Sunday's singles matches. It was perfect.
Thursday, the second pro-am day, was quite warm. It was relatively pleasant, but just calm and warm enough for the areas second greatest natural hazard other than hurricanes, 'no see 'ems', to make you wish the weather would change.
Well, be careful what you wish for. Saturday brought steady rains which at times turned into downpours strong enough to make you swear that the constant parade of shrimp boats was replaced by an arc - which would have been fitting because we were in the presence of gods.
And then Sunday, after raining through the night, the expected cold front moved in. What it lacked in warmth, it made up for in wind. Raymond Floyd looked like a Nordic skier, and Tom Lehman sported a nifty cold-weather undergarment that looked like a cross between a wet suit and a NASCAR pit crew fire protection coverall. Wind-chill factors in the 30s were what produced some big numbers, but it was match play and the Yanks dominated.
In the end, the U.S. team retained the Cup that they had won by a single point during the inaugural matches last year. The final tally was 14 to 9 , but that in no way tells the story of the UBS Warburg Cup.
Player, Floyd, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin, the King himself, and a host of other players who grew up with persimmon - all in one place, playing golf, and thoroughly enjoying each others company. Quite simply, if youve been a fan of golf for any amount of time preceding the Tiger era, you would have given anything to have a front row seat ' a seat that probably would have stuck to your seat on Sunday.
From the first words of the respective captains a year ago, through to this week, the one constant to the matches was the insistence by both captains that the matches be played in the spirit of the game 'the same spirit Samuel Ryder intended for the now-contentious cup matches bearing his name. And they were.
Players routinely dined together, played pool in the palatial and warm locker room, and generally got along. Perhaps it does have a bit of the feel of an inconsequential event ' perhaps. After all, the matches just blew out the first birthday candle. But from the first moment I stepped onto the property early in the week, it had a bit of a different feel.
Every player to a man reiterated the same comments about the competition. 'Were all competitors, and make no mistake, we do want to win,' Floyd said. 'But we want to do it in the spirit in which it is intended.'
The difference between this year and last must lie in the fact that now the matches had a tiny bit of something that they didnt have last year ' they had a year of history. The Americans had claimed the Cup last year, and they definitely wanted to keep it for another. The Rest of World team wanted to enjoy themselves, enjoy the camaraderie, and all that, but they also wanted to win the Cup. It was just a bit more serious.
The first match I followed Friday best illustrated my point. Floyd and Lehman played their first-ever round together. Think about that for a moment: Raymond Floyd, the man whose steely glare has probably intimidated more opponents than Ben Hogan himself, and Tom Lehman as partners. The same Tom Lehman who was so instrumental to the Americans monumental comeback during the singles matches at the 1999 Ryder Cup. The same Tom Lehman who received a cheap shot about his religious faith from Sam Torrance following the regrettable outburst on the 17th green at Brookline, and all the ensuing rhetoric.
Wait, it gets better.
Floyd and Lehman were pitted against this years European Ryder Cup vice captain, Ian Woosnam, and his great friend and European Ryder Cup captain, Torrance.
Torrance and Woosnam are gritty competitors - there should be absolutely no question about that. But they were playing perhaps two of the greatest match-play competitors to ever tee it up in a Ryder Cup with 50 stars and 13 stripes on their bag.
'There wasnt a lot of loose talk out there today,' Lehman said. 'We definitely wanted to win.'
Raymond Floyd was a captains pick in both the victorious 1991 and 1993 Ryder Cup Matches - the latter coming at the age of 51. Tom Lehman played his first Ryder Cup in 1995 and arguably should have been a captains pick last year. As a matter of fact, if we were betting on one of those hypothetical 'era vs. era' possibilities, I would bet the farm on those two as partners in their respective primes.
Floyd and Lehman won, 1-up, on the 18th hole. It was a win that might not make the annals of golf history, but it had to feel good for the Americans. But there was no animosity, no sneers, no backhanded comments to the press, and no lasting scars. It was good fun - the manner in which it was intended.
The matches were contested mightily - more so than a year ago. And next year, the RoW team will probably be even more focused. But win, lose or draw - or should I say, be it winter, summer, or fall - if these same players ever get together again in the future, I want to be there.
The UBS Warburg Cup matches are here to stay. The Cup might someday leave, but the matches arent going away. Imagine that ' a silly-season event that isnt silly.
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