Ryder Cup is Too Good Not to Want More


Ryder CupA lot of serious golf fans who work for a living still don’t know how close it really was. Twenty-eight matches, somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 golf shots, and for the first time since 1991, it all came down to the final pairing. This wasn’t quite the War on the Shore, but it wasn’t the Debacle in Detroit or the Dud in the Irish Mud, either.

Hunter Mahan, a terrific ballstriker whose short game has given him problems over the years, chunked a chip with the Ryder Cup on the line. It brought an unsightly end to a singles session that was otherwise an immense pleasure to watch – two teams locked in a fierce tussle for all the right reasons against a backdrop of blue sky and hot-blooded emotion. The United States’ comeback was valiant, heroes galore on both sides, but with Mahan struggling all day to make a putt, with Stewart Cink failing to take advantage of excellent scoring opportunities on the 17th and 18th greens, the Yanks came up a day late and a birdie short.

So Europe regains Sam Ryder’s chalice, and everybody wins. Not even a Monday finish could spoil the notion that professional golf needed a thrilling, memorable outcome. As resilient as Team America proved to be in singles, this cup was lost in the six-match “makeup” session that began Saturday afternoon and ended almost 24 hours later. When it rains, it pours, and if you claim a mere half-point with all 12 guys on the golf course, you’re standing in the middle of a monsoon without an umbrella.

Other than the weather, there was a lot to like about the 38th edition of this great event. Both skippers got huge production from their most controversial captain’s picks. I was among those who thought Colin Montgomerie made a mistake when he added Luke Donald over Paul Casey or Justin Rose, but Donald turned out to be Europe’s best performer, and amazingly, he remains unbeaten in six career foursomes matches.

Rickie Fowler, meanwhile, already had made Corey Pavin’s gamble look brilliant before holing one of the biggest putts by an American at a Ryder Cup over the last decade. His 18-footer for birdie at the par-5 18th regained the half-point lost when Cink missed from four feet at the 17th, and if Fowler’s composure in big moments is as admirable as his ability to handle that pressure, the two qualities obviously are related. The little fella has big balatas, and when a 21-year-old rising star thrives in situations that cause others to wilt, it’s hard not to envision good things for Team America in the future.

Another shout-out goes to the British PGA and PGA of America for reacting to the onslaught of lousy weather with a revised competitive format – a schedule to ensure all 28 matches would be played. Not that what they did was rocket science, but progressive thinking can get buried beneath two tons of tradition, especially in a game that leans so hard on its old-world sensibilities. The fact of the matter is the Ryder Cup was tweaked constantly in its first 50 years, the biggest change occurring with the inclusion of continental Europe in 1979, an expansion that has gone a long way toward defining the event as we know it today.

The time has come to consider more alterations. Adding a fourth day of matches would alleviate the problems that arise from cramming 28 tilts into three days. Both teams are on site by Monday morning. Why wait until Friday to start keeping score? The Ryder Cup has become a victim of all the wrong excesses – too much pregame shenanigans, not enough golf that matters. Spread things out, give the participants more time to breathe.

If each match was worth two points instead of one, you would impart a slightly greater importance on winning matches without compromising the Ryder Cup’s credibility or integrity. The pace-of-play issue needs to be addressed, especially in the fourballs, which often take more than five hours to play. Get them started on a single-session Thursday with all 24 players involved: six bouts for a total of 12 points.

Friday, meanwhile, becomes a test of strategic guile. By mixing three singles matches and three alternate-shot deals in both the morning and afternoon, the captains and their personnel decisions would have a greater effect on the overall ebb and flow. Again everybody plays in at least one of the Friday sessions. Those who compete in the morning singles cannot be used for singles in the afternoon. We’re looking to test the depth of both squads here, not some rookie’s ability to ride in a cart and wave pom-poms.

Another combo platter is served up Saturday: three fourballs, three foursomes, which gives the players a little break before Sunday, which doesn’t change. The singles finale amounts to the best six hours in golf, and when rain pushes it into Monday, as was the case at Celtic Manor, you counter an unfortunate situation with some pragmatic measures that make those occurrences very avoidable.

Honestly? The Ryder Cup is too good an event to not want more. All within reason, of course, which is reason enough.