For many, golf is a game so excruciatingly slow and dull that its status as a sport is highly dubious. The six hour rounds and seemingly unenthusiastic spectators that appear prohibited from showing any sign of enjoyment, it is not surprising such a judgement endures. However, one particular format of the game spectacularly refutes this common complaint; the Ryder Cup.
Established in 1927 by Samuel Ryder, the Ryder Cup is a three-day competition held every other year and is contested by a team of the best golfers from Europe and the USA. Courses native to both team take turns at hosting the event, with the score currently sitting 26-13 in favour of the United States. Each side is led by a captain, typically a past great of the game from either Europe or America, and their trusted vice captains. Eight players from each team qualify automatically according to their performance at tour events throughout the two-year build-up to the competition. The final assembly of teams are completed by four ‘wild card’ picks: players unsuccessful at guaranteeing themselves an automatic place in the squad selected by each captain.
The first two days of action consist of four-ball and foursome matches. During the former, two members from team Europe and Unites States partner up and each hit their own individual shots, meaning four balls are in play at one time. The teams then take the lowest of their scores on each hole, and the team whose player has the lowest score wins the hole and gains a point. In contrast, foursomes involve one ball per partnership, with players taking turns to hit a shot and alternating between who strikes off the tee. Points are awarded to the contingent who take the fewest shots per hole. If the hole is equally contested and scores tied in either four-ball or foursome matches, the hole is halved. Sundays at the Ryder Cup feature singles matches. These follow the traditional format of golf familiar to most, where each member of team Europe and USA face-off independently against one another. Scoring continues in the fashion of the previous two-days of competition, with the team accumulating the most amount of points raising the Ryder Cup triumphantly at the end of the weekend. However, if the competition ends in a draw, the trophy is retained by the defending champions.
If you thought the Ryder Cup was much the same as the dreary and languid approach to golf taken by everyday tour events, think again. The passion shown by players is unrecognisable from their usual courteous and well-mannered demeanour that typifies the strict etiquette of the game. Vigorous chest bumping amongst teammates are a common occurrence, along with ferocious roars and euphoric whooping that reverberate across all eighteen holes. Almost all practices of sportsmanship are abandoned. For evidence of this, look no further than Rory McIlroy’s singles match with Patrick Reed in 2016. Locked in battle, McIlroy sunk a 40ft putt on the 8th, prompting a series of sarcastic bows and ‘I can’t hear you’ gesture from the Northern Irishman, aimed at opposing fans. Reed followed suit with a confident putt that tied the hole and celebration of his own, dismissively wagging his index finger at McIlroy. As much can be said for the spectators, whose incessant heckling and booing epitomise the ninety-one-year contest between the European and American teams.
Although their hostility towards opposing players is plain to see, Ryder Cup fans are also credited with creating one of the best atmospheres in sport. The grand stands surrounding tee boxes are filled with rapturous chanting reminiscent of a night of darts at the Ally Pally. Unlike normal golfing events, players such as Europe’s Ian Poulter and American Bubba Watson actively encourage audiences to continue their jeering and distractions throughout the most pressured of tee shots. It is this type of mutual respect between players and fans that allows the healthy rivalry of the Ryder Cup to flourish, and be played in a spirit which truly makes the competition unmissable.
This year’s instalment of the competition commences later this month, and sees the turn of Parisian course, Le Golf National, host the event for the first time. Danish great Thomas Bjørn will be taking charge of Europe’s bid to regain the trophy they conceded to the Americans last time out at Hazeltine National, Minnesota. With the likes of golf’s golden boy McIlroy, and Ryder Cup fanatic and wild card Poulter in their ranks, Europe will surely fancy their chances of doing so. However, they will have to go a long way to overcome a USA team headed by veteran Jim Furyk. Famed for his unusually erratic but highly effective swing, Furyk has a roster boasting current Masters Champion Reed, U.S. Open and PGA Championship Winner Brooks Koepka, and world number one Dustin Johnson at his disposal; not to mention the wild card picks of the legendary Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. It will be tight, but their underdog status may be crucial in sealing a 2018 Ryder Cup home win for Europe, a moment you will not want to forget to tune in for.